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France's parliament says intelligence 'failed' before the 2015 terror attacks

An inquiry committee urged the government to create a single intelligence agency to prevent failures like those that let the Charlie Hebdo and Bataclan terrorists slip through.

by VICE News
Jul 5 2016, 3:45pm

A French military task force GIGN secures the convoy transporting Paris attacks suspect Salah Abdeslam in May 2016. Photo by Etienne Laurent/EPA.

A French parliamentary inquiry into the state's response to last year's terror attacks found that the country was "not prepared" for the two attacks in Paris that bookended 2015 — the shooting at the Charlie Hebdo weekly and attack at a kosher supermarket in January, and the coordinated bombings and shootings in November.

Speaking at a press conference Tuesday, Georges Fenech, the member of parliament for the center-right Republican party who headed the investtigation committee, said that the country did not "measure up" to today's attackers.

The committee was set up last year to investigate the government's counterterrorism efforts after the January 7, 2015 Charlie Hebdo shooting, in which two gunmen barged in the satirical weekly's Paris offices and decimated its editorial staff. Two days later, gunman Amedy Coulibaly killed four hostages during a siege at a kosher supermarket in the east of the capital.

In November 2015, Paris was once again brought to a standstill when a group of armed men carried out a series of coordinated attacks across the city, including at the Bataclan concert hall, killing 130 people.

During Tuesday's conference, Fenech said that the country's intelligence services had "failed."

As part of its 39 recommendations to the government, according to a scan of the document published Tuesday in newspaper Le Monde, the commission has called for officials to overhaul the country's existing intelligence services, and to establish a single national counterterrorism agency.

The commission also wants intelligence and security agencies to work from a unique database of terror suspects. Speaking to BFMTV Tuesday, Fenech explained that Charlie Hebdo gunman Saïd Kouachi has slipped through the net because he was being monitored by multiple agencies, at various times. Breaks in surveillance, he added, could have "serious consequences."

Related: More Cops With Bigger Guns Will Stop Terrorists, Says French Government

Lawmakers have also called for better cooperation between the intelligence services of European Union countries, and have urged member states to work more closely with European police agency Europol. The commission also recommends giving European border management agency Frontex access to the Schengen Information System, a security database shared by countries that are part of the Schengen borderless area.

One of the propositions seeks to increase Europe's assistance to Frontex by deploying more Europol agents in Greece to help manage migratory flows.

The committee also suggested having a debate around "the role and obligations" of media and social media during a terror attack, and said that, in the future, the government and the media could be asked to sign an agreement defining the nature of their collaboration in times of crisis. Publishing any information that might endanger persons involved in an attack could also become an offense, according to the new recommendations.

The investigation commission also found intelligence failings within France's prison system, and recommended creating a "fully operational prison intelligence agency" as soon as possible. Coulibaly and Chérif Kouachi, the other Charlie Hebdo gunman, are both believed to have become radicalized in prison.

The committee raised questions over the efficiency of Operation Sentinelle — launched in January 2015, in the wake of the Charlie Hebdo attacks — and recommended re-deploying soldiers around key sensitive sites.

Lawmakers also focused on the response of emergency teams. They recommended creating a unique database for emergency teams and medical staff, to better manage the processing of victims. In short, this means making civilian responders behave more like military medics in a war zone: first responders may soon be trained in damage control and combat casualty care to be better prepared for treating victims of a terror attack.

Among the other recommendations by the committee, there's also increasing the numbers of rounds fired annually by officers in training, introducing new screening measures in airports, and increasing military pressure on Islamic State-controlled territories in Iraq, including with a ground intervention — although not by France alone.