France to outlaw visits to "terrorist" training camps

PARIS Wed Oct 3, 2012 10:40am EDT

French President Francois Hollande arrives to speak with journalists at the Elysee Palace in Paris, October 1, 2012. REUTERS/Christian Hartmann

French President Francois Hollande arrives to speak with journalists at the Elysee Palace in Paris, October 1, 2012.

Credit: Reuters/Christian Hartmann

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PARIS (Reuters) - France's left-wing government, spurred by an al Qaeda-inspired gunman's killing spree, tabled legislation on Wednesday that will allow police to arrest people who visit combat training camps in countries such as Pakistan or Afghanistan.

The change looks much like the crackdown that conservative former president Nicolas Sarkozy had promised before he was unseated by Socialist Francois Hollande, whose government is ditching much of Sarkozy's economic policy but maintaining a tough line on crime and security.

Interior Minister Manuel Valls presented the bill six months after seven people including three Jewish children were shot by Mohamed Merah, a 23-year-old whose trips to such spots were known to intelligence services staff who had been tagging him for years.

Those killings, followed by Merah's own death in a hail of police bullets at his flat in the city of Toulouse, were the first of the kind in 15 years and fuelled debate about police inability to pounce on him before the event.

The legislation, if passed by parliament, will make it possible for police to take people into custody for questioning if there is a suspicion they were involved in terrorism-related activity beyond French borders. At the moment they can only act when offences are suspected or committed inside France.

"The terrorist threat remains high-level in France," said a government statement on the new legislation. "It is essential that we can detect when people, collectively or individually, embark on the road to radicalization and terrorist violence."

Claude Gueant, interior minister back in March, defended the police and intelligence services after the Merah killings on the grounds that they could not arrest a person who had not committed an offence on French soil.

The government will also extend a measure that allows police to access the electronic or Internet communications of potential terrorists, the statement said.

Special measures allowing police access to such otherwise private communications were due to expire at the end of 2012. The government said they would be extended through 2015 and that there could be a decision later to make them apply indefinitely.

(Reporting By Brian Love; Editing by Robin Pomeroy)

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