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France, Europe in anti-terror shakeup after Paris attacks

Wednesday, January 21, 2015 - 17:53
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French and European leaders will unveil a battery of anti-terror measures Wednesday as the first suspects linked to the Paris attacks were charged.

[PARIS] French and European leaders will unveil a battery of anti-terror measures Wednesday as the first suspects linked to the Paris attacks were charged.

France has formally accused four men of providing equipment and support to one of the gunmen in the January 7-9 shootings which left 17 people dead and shook the nation to its core.

With the country on high alert against fresh Islamist attacks, Prime Minister Manuel Valls will outline promised measures to boost security and intelligence services.

Education officials are also due to announce plans to boost civic spirit and respect of France's highly-prized secularism in schools, after a series of incidents where pupils have refused to honour tributes to attack victims and expressed support for the jihadists.

Jitters from the worst attack on French soil in decades have spread to the country's neighbours and a wave of police raids, investigations and extraditions have taken place in Europe.

In Brussels, European Commissioners will meet Wednesday to discuss the 28-nation bloc's new counterterrorism strategy, including changes to the region's Schengen free travel area and intelligence cooperation.

Meanwhile in Washington, President Barack Obama said the US stood side by side with terror victims around the world, citing the Paris attacks in his State of the Nation address late Tuesday.

"We will continue to hunt down terrorists and dismantle their networks," he said, vowing action against "terrorists who pose a direct threat to us and our allies".

Last week Mr Valls announced the creation of special files for people linked to terrorism, and said prisoners linked to extremist Islam could be isolated in jail, a hotbed for radicalisation.

Interior Minister Bernard Cazeneuve has said intelligence services could receive additional funding while security forces could get more powerful weapons and improved equipment.

According to a source, 400 million euros (US$460 million) will go to the police for hiring, upgrading information systems and equipment.

Nearly 15,000 police and troops have been deployed to protect sensitive sites in the wake of the attacks.

Intense investigations in Paris have made progress in the case of one of the gunmen Amedy Coulibaly, who was behind the murder of four hostages at a Jewish supermarket and the murder of a policewoman.

But Paris prosecutor Francois Molins said Wednesday little headway had been made into the case of brothers Said and Cherif Kouachi who gunned down 12 people at satirical magazine Charlie Hebdo.

He said the probe could take "months, even years".

The four suspects believed to have assisted Coulibaly were charged with conspiracy to commit terrorist acts, and one of them for possession and transport of weapons.

Investigators discovered that three of the men had on several occasions visited armoury stores around Paris to "buy equipment" such as knives, a taser gun, tactical vests and pepper spray.

The attacks prompted a flurry of police activity across Europe on suspected Islamist cells with raids taking place in Belgium and Germany.

Greece on Tuesday ordered the extradition of a 33-year-old Algerian man with suspected links to a jihadist cell dismantled in Belgium.

And in Bulgaria, a court ruled that a Frenchman who knew two of the Paris attackers should be returned to his home country.

France had issued an arrest warrant for Muslim convert Fritz-Joly Joachin, 29, who denies being an extremist but who was detained after trying to cross from Bulgaria into Turkey before the attacks.

Many EU states have pushed for a US-style database of air travellers' details on the grounds that it would help track Islamist suspects, but the European Parliament has so far blocked the scheme saying it would breach civil liberties.

Some European nations have also been pushing for a tightening of the Schengen visa-free zone.

"They will discuss subjects including passenger name records and data retention, the functioning of the Schengen area and cooperation between security services," Commission spokesman Margaritis Schinas told a briefing on Tuesday ahead of Wednesday's meeting.

The fallout from the attacks has led to massive protests in Muslim countries, furious after Charlie Hebdo magazine responded to the killing of its staff by publishing a new cartoon of the Prophet Mohammed.

Banned by Islam, the depiction of the prophet was taken as an insult to Muslims who burned French flags and threatened the country in protests in Chechnya, Afghanistan, Gaza, Iran and Pakistan.

In Niger protests turned deadly as 10 people were killed and dozens of churches were torched.

AFP