France approves sweeping spy bill in response to Islamist attacks

Attack on Charlie HebdoBy JOSEPH FITSANAKIS | intelNews.org
Lawmakers in the French National Assembly have overwhelmingly approved a new bill giving the country’s intelligence services unprecedented domestic spy capabilities. The bill, which is dismissed by critics as France’s version of the United States’ PATRIOT Act, was drafted by the ruling Socialist Party just days after a group of armed Islamists attacked several targets in Paris. The attacks were primarily directed against France’s popular satirical magazine Charlie Hebdo (see photo). A dozen members of the magazine’s staff, including several internationally-known cartoonists, were killed at the magazine’s headquarters in the French capital on January 7 of this year.

The newly approved bill provides blanket-approval for the wholesale interception and storage of communications metadata, which include information about the location and size of Internet-based communications exchanges. They also include information on the identities of those sending or receiving electronic messages. The legislation also includes a provision for the establishment of a new supervisory body called the National Commission for Control of Intelligence Techniques. Its mission will be to supervise the use of surveillance powers by France’s six intelligence agencies, as well as to handle complaints relating to communications interception from members of the public.

As the bill progressed through France’s houses of parliament, the French government and its supporters argued that the country needed national legislation that would take into consideration the rapid technical changes in digital telecommunications. But critics, which included most of France’s Internet service providers, claimed that the new law would give intelligence agencies unreasonably broad surveillance powers and would hamper online commerce. These claims, however, failed to convince lawmakers; the bill was thus approved by 438 votes for to 86 against. Most parliamentarians from France’s three main parties —the Socialist Party, the rightwing Union for a Popular Movement, and the centrist Union of Democrats and Independents— voted in favor of the bill. Observers noted with surprise that most lawmakers from the Radical Party of the Left also voted in favor of the bill. In contrast, the communist-led Left Front, as well as the Greens, voted overwhelmingly against the bill.

Opinion: Paris attackers bring Mideast urban warfare to Europe

Attack on Charlie HebdoBy JOSEPH FITSANAKIS* | intelNews.org
Until Wednesday morning, the last time the offices of Charlie Hebdo, France’s best known satirical weekly, were attacked was on November 2, 2011. On that day, unknown assailants had thrown Molotov cocktails into the premises, setting them on fire. Since that attack, France has seen its share of Islamist-inspired terrorist incidents. In March of 2012, French citizen Mohammed Merah shot dead three French soldiers before attacking a Jewish school in Toulouse, where he killed three students and a teacher. Last May, authorities in Marseille arrested another Frenchman, Mehdi Nemmouche, for opening fire at a Jewish museum in Belgian capital Brussels earlier that month, killing a French national and two Israeli citizens. And the French public has been shocked in recent months by a number of seemingly random attacks on pedestrians by vehicles driven by Muslim Frenchmen, who appear to be politically motivated.

The common thread running through these incidents is that they were all haphazardly planned and executed by ‘lone-wolf’ attackers, who were markedly limited in both resources and skill. But the men implicated in Wednesday’s attack on Charlie Hebdo, which left 12 people dead, were different. The two brothers, Cherif and Said Kouachi, who are said to be the main perpetrators of the assault, are believed to have “returned to France from Syria in the last year”, according to MSNBC. Undoubtedly, the two siblings saw action in the Syrian armed conflict, which is primarily fought in urban settings, and were systematically trained in urban warfare by men with considerable experience in it.

This explains their proficient delivery on Wednesday, as shown in the footage of the bloody attack, which has emerged since. The assailants arrived at their target carrying Kalashnikov rifles and magazines, neither of which can be easily acquired in France. Once inside the building, they remained there for a good 12 minutes, carefully executing their victims, some of whom they methodically sought out by name. They exited just as they entered, calm and collected. Even when they encountered a police vehicle, they stopped, aimed and shot at its passengers with considerable discipline, firing single or —in a handful of cases— double shots, instead of opting for bursts of rapid fire, which is the hallmark of inexperienced users of automatic rifles in moments of panic. After executing the police officers, they calmly walked back into their getaway vehicle and slowly drove away. It has been reported that at no point did they break the speed limit during their escape. Read more of this post