French lower house approves bill to counter jihad

French lower house approves bill to counter jihad

Bill decried as ‘dangerous and destructive’ by French rights group; UK moves to adopt its own anti-extremism measures

French Minister Emmanuel Macron, speaks during the weekly session of questions to the government at the National Assembly in Paris on September 17, 2014. (photo credit: Thomas Samson/AFP)
French Minister Emmanuel Macron, speaks during the weekly session of questions to the government at the National Assembly in Paris on September 17, 2014. (photo credit: Thomas Samson/AFP)

France’s lower house, the National Assembly, approved an “anti-terrorism” bill on Thursday which will usher in a travel ban on anyone suspected of planning to wage jihad, despite concerns that it could curtail freedoms.

The bill comes as authorities are increasingly wary about the number of French citizens traveling to fight in Iraq and Syria who could potentially come back and stage attacks in their home country.

But several lawmakers have voiced their fears over a bill that could curtail the freedoms of French citizens.

The bill includes the travel ban, which would see suspects have their passports and ID cards confiscated for six months, renewable for up to two years, as well as punishment for “lone wolves” who plan terrorist attacks on their own.

It also allows authorities to ask Internet service providers to block access to sites that praise “acts of terrorism” — modeled on existing rules against child pornography sites.

It was approved by most political groups at the National Assembly and will be debated by the upper house Senate next month.

But the Greens abstained on the vote because they believe there are not enough legal guarantees in the bill that freedoms will be respected.

“La Quadrature du Net,” a French association that defends online rights, slammed the bill as “dangerous and destructive of freedoms.”

“The debates at the National Assembly on the terrorism bill showed that voting for a law by giving in to emotions linked to current events allows for freedoms to be rolled back with hardly any protest,” Philippe Aigrain, co-founder of the association, was quoted as saying in a statement.

“Citizens will not let their rights be undermined on the pretext of measures that are inefficient against terrorism and potentially dangerous.”

According to Interior Minister Bernard Cazeneuve, around 930 French citizens including at least 60 women are either actively engaged in jihad in Iraq and Syria or are planning to go there, a 74-percent increase in eight months.

Other countries in Europe have similar issues.

Britain, for instance, says some 400 to 500 nationals are thought to have traveled to the region to fight; Prime Minister David Cameron also wants to give border police powers to seize passports from suspected would-be jihadists.

Mehdi Nemmouche, a French national suspected of killing four people at Brussels’ Jewish Museum in May, had spent more than a year fighting with Islamic extremists in Syria.

And last week, six people were detained near the eastern city of Lyon on suspicion of recruiting candidates for jihad.

According to a police source, one of the suspects was linked to Forsane Alizza (Knights of Pride), an Islamist extremist group banned in 2012 that had called for France to become an Islamic caliphate.

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