MS Risk Blog

France Seeks Answers as Security Boosted Across the Country

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On Monday, France mobilized 10,000 troops to boost security across the country in the wake of last week’s deadly attacks. The increased security comes as more information on the attackers and their links to terrorist organizations surfaces. Questions are mounting as to how the attackers slipped through the intelligence services’ net. French authorities are now carrying out an investigation into last week’s attacks.

Security Boosted Across France

France on Monday announced an unprecedented deployment of thousands of troops and police in order to boost security at “sensitive” sites across the country. At an emergency security meeting, Defence Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian announced “we have decided…to mobilize 10,000 men to protect sensitive sites in the whole country from tomorrow (Tuesday) evening,” adding “this is the first time that our troops have been mobilized to such an extent on our soil.” Close to 5,000 police officers will also be deployed to guard 700 Jewish schools as well as places of worship. France’s alert level on Monday remained at its highest possible as French officials sought security answers.

The increased security presence comes as a French police source reported Saturday that law enforcement officers across France have been told to erase their social media presence and to carry their weapons at all times because terror sleeper cells have been activated over the last 24 hours in the country. According to the source, Amedy Coulibaly, a suspect killed Friday during the deadly hostage siege at a kosher market, had reportedly made several phone calls regarding the targeting of police officers in France. Saturdays’ development was just one of several as France begins to investigate a possible major intelligence failure.

Investigations into Intelligence Failures

France on Monday turned its attention to sealing security holes that have been blamed for failing to prevent the deadliest terrorist attack on the country in half a century. Last week’s attacks were a major intelligence failure, but they have also demonstrated how this new style of terrorism is proving to be a challenge for even the best intelligence agencies.

President Francois Hollande will chair a crisis meeting with cabinet ministers on Monday in order to discuss security measures after the shootings raised questions about how the attackers were able to slip from the radar of French intelligence services. Reports surfaced Saturday that brothers Cherif and Said Kouachi had been under watch by French officials, however that several despite red flags, authorities there lost interest in them. French Prime Minister Manuel Valls has admitted that there were “clear failings” after it emerged that brothers Said, 34, and Cherif Kouachi, 32, had been on a US terror watch list “for years. Both brothers, as well as Amedy Coulibaly, 32, had a history of extremism and were known to French intelligence.

Said was known to have travelled to Yemen in 2011, where he received weapons training from al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP). French authorities had placed him under surveillance in November 2011 however they terminated this surveillance in June 2014 when French security services deemed him no longer dangerous. According to a senior Yemeni national security official, Said Kouachi entered Yemen multiple times with an officially issued visa. According to the official, “Said was not being watched during the duration of his stay in Yemen because he was not on the watch list,” adding that at the time, Yemen’s Western allies had not raised concerns about him. His brother Cherif was also a known jihadist who was convicted in 2008 of being involved in a network sending fighters to Iraq.   While French intelligence officials believe that there is a strong possibility that Cherif also travelled to Yemen for a short trip in 2011, separately from his brother, surveillance of Cherif was terminated at the end of 2013 when his phone calls suggested that he had disengaged with violent extremism and was instead focused on counterfeiting clothing and shoes. Meanwhile Amedy Coulibaly was a repeat criminal offender who had been convicted for extremist Islamist activity.   French prosecutors have indicated that Coulibaly, who killed four people at a kosher market on Friday, was also involved in the shooting of a jogger near Paris on Wednesday, the day of the attack on a magazine that kicked off the terror spree. Prosecutors have indicated that they have linked shell cases found in the eastern Paris town of Fontenay-aux-Roses, where the jogger was shot and severely wounded, to a Tokarev gun that Coulibaly carried at the kosher market on Friday.

News that all three suspects were known to French intelligence also came as a video circulated on the Internet on Sunday depicting a man appearing to be Coulibaly pledging allegiance to Islamic State and its self-proclaimed caliph, Abu Bakr al-baghdadi. In the video, Coulibaly, who appears in front of a small Islamic State flag, indicated that he synchronized his actions with the Kouachi brothers. In the video, he is seen exercising outdoors near a brick building, followed by shots of automatic weapons, pistols and ammunition laid out on a wooden floor. Coulibaly also describes the Charlie Hebdo attackers as his “brothers” and states that he gave them money to finish purchasing supplies. Sources have indicated that Islamic State is responsible for releasing the video, which adds further evidence of a possible connection between the terrorist attacks and the radical terrorist group that has taken over large areas of land in Syria and Iraq. Coulibaly’s mother and sisters have condemned his actions, stating, “we hope there will not be any confusion between these odious acts and the Muslim religion.”

US on Alert

On Monday, the New York City Police Department along with other law enforcement personnel responded to a threat from ISIS after someone re-released a September 2014 message that tells followers to “rise up and kill intelligence offices, police offices, soldiers and civilians.”  Officials in the US however have noted that they are currently not aware of any specific threats to the US.

Also on Monday, Turkey’s state-run Anatolian News Agency citied Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu stating that the wanted partner of one of the gunmen behind the terror attack in France, was in Turkey five days before the killings, adding that she crossed the border into Syria on 8 January.

In the wake of the two hostage crises on Friday, French authorities launched a search for 26-year-old Hayat Boumeddiene after French anti-terrorist police killed her partner Amedy Coulibaly. On its website, Anatolian cited Turkey’s Foreign Minister as stating in an interview that she had arrived in Istanbul from Madrid on 2 January. According to Cavusoglu, “there is footage (of her) at the airport. Later on, she stayed at a hotel with another person and crossed into Syria on January 8. We can tell that based on telephone records.” Cavusoglu stated that the 26-year-old, who married Coulibaly in an Islamic ceremony, stayed at a hotel in Kadikoy in Istanbul and was accompanied by another person. She then moved onto the south-eastern Turkish city of Sanliurfa and then to Syria however Turkish authorities have not clarified whether she travelled to Syria on her own.  Contrary to earlier speculation that she had been involved in the Paris killings, those dates would effectively put Boumeddiene in Turkey before the attacks in Paris, leaving for Syria while the attackers were still on the loose. Cavusoglu indicated that as soon as Turkey had determined the whereabouts of Boumeddiene, it passed the information to French authorities. Interior Minister Efkan Ala has indicated that Turkey received no request to deny access to Boumeddiene, stating “the entry of individuals to Turkey could be blocked based on information from the originating countries saying this person’s entry could be problematic.” Sources have indicated that Turkey did not arrest Boumeddiene because of a lack of timely intelligence from France. While western countries have long accused Turkey of not doing enough to stem the flow of jihadists who are seeking to join Islamic State fighters in neighbouring Syria, Ankara has insisted that it has now stepped up frontier security, noting that the West also has a responsibility to share intelligence.

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