Terror Attack in France and the Possible Anti-Terrorism Bill

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On October 1st, a man reportedly yelling “Allahu Abkar” attacked and killed two women outside the main train station in Marseille, France.  The assailant was killed by soldiers immediately following the attack.

IS claimed responsibility for the attack, and said the attacker was acting in response to its call to target countries that are part of the US-led coalition fighting in Syria and Iraq. Some witnesses and police officers reported hearing the assailant shout “Allahu Akbar”, Arabic for “Allah is greatest”, one of the reasons the attack is being treated as a terrorism investigation.

The attacker had previously been arrested and detained two days before the attack for shoplifting but was released the next day without charges. Although the attacker was arrested before on charges of shoplifting and illegal weapons possession and is known to have had seven different aliases, he wasn’t on France’s anti-terror watch list. The police did not suspect any threat of radicalization when they arrested him for shoplifting in the days before the attack.

On October 3rd, the lower house of French parliament is set to vote on a first draft of an anti-terrorism bill. The bill would end the state of emergency in France that has renewed six times since the terror attacks in Paris in 2015. If passed, the bill would make most of the provisions from the state of emergency permanent.

Under the state of emergency, authorities had the ability to search property without a warrant, put terrorist suspects under house arrest and shut down places of worship linked to terrorism. The bill would make these powers permanent, with limited oversight from the judiciary. Parliament would review the bill in 2020 to measure the success of the bill and make changes if necessary.

Almost 240 people have been killed in France in attacks since early 2015 by people who pledged allegiance to or were inspired by Islamic State. In 2016, at least 17 terror attacks were stopped and in 2017 twelve terror plots have been foiled.

While there is opposition to the new anti-terrorism bill from the conservative Les Républicains (LR) and the hard left La France Insoumise (LFI), the bill will likely pass. The conservatives believe that the law is not strong enough and that authorities need greater powers to expel foreigners who threaten public safety. Human rights advocates are concerned that the definition for terrorism used in the bill is too vague and could be abused and it will harm the rights and liberties of citizens.

The anti-terrorism bill is an attempt by the government to strengthen internal security and fight against terrorism. While the state of emergency for the past two years has given citizens a sense of security, the number of attempted and successful attacks remains high. If the new bill seeks to implement emergency provisions emergency permanently, it’s unlikely to prove any more effective.

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