Weekly News

Paris attacks inquiry finds multiple failings by French intelligence agencies

November 30,-0001 00:00

A crowd gathers to lay flowers and candles in front of the Carillon restaurant, scene of one of the attacks, in Paris in November. Photograph: Ian Langsdon/EPA. Angelique Chrisafis in Paris. Tuesday 5 July 2016 13.53 EDT Last modified on Tuesday 5 July ...and more »


A French parliamentary investigation into last year’s terrorist attacks on Paris has identified multiple failings by France’s intelligence agencies.
The parliamentary commission was set up to assess the failure to prevent a series of attacks that killed a total of 147 people in 2015 – from January’s gun attacks on the Charlie Hebdo offices and a kosher grocery store to the coordinated gun and bomb attacks on 13 November outside the national sports stadium, at bars and restaurants and at a rock gig at the Bataclan concert hall.
The commission highlighted a “global failure” of French intelligence and recommended a total overhaul of the intelligence services and the creation of a single, US-style national counter-terrorism agency.
“Our country was not ready; now we must get ready,” said Georges Fenech, head of the commission.
France has six intelligence units answering variously to the interior, defence and economy ministries.
Fenech said the multi-layered, cumbersome intelligence apparatus was like an army of soldiers wearing lead boots.
He said that without the multiple intelligence failings, the Bataclan attack, which killed 90, could have been prevented.
“Faced with the threat of international terrorism, we need to be much more ambitious … in terms of intelligence,” he said.
All the extremists involved in the attacks had been previously flagged to authorities, Fenech said. Some had past convictions, or were under judicial surveillance in France or in Belgium when they struck Paris.
After 200 hours of hearings, the commission found that the different intelligence agencies had struggled to communicate about known Islamists who had been under surveillance, in prison or had had their phones tapped at some point.
Amedy Coulibaly, who killed four people in a siege at a kosher grocery store in January last year and shot dead a policewoman, was a known radical and repeat offender. While serving a prison sentence for his part in a plot to free another terrorist from jail, he had been flagged as radicalised. This information was not passed from prison services to intelligence agencies on his release.
Surveillance of one of the Charlie Hebdo attackers, Saïd Kouachi, had been lifted when he moved house from Paris to the north-eastern city of Reims.
Samy Amimour, who was involved in the Bataclan attack, was able to travel to Syria in 2013 despite a ban on him leaving France. He travelled with another future Bataclan attacker who was also on police files.
The report said there had been failings in surveillance when convicted radicalised criminals were released from prison. An anti-terrorism judge told the inquiry that terrorists were subject to the same level of surveillance as “small-time crooks who peddle marijuana” when released from prison under court supervision.
The commission also flagged up failures in European security and coordination and communication.
“Europe is not up to the task” of fighting terrorism, said Sebastien Pietrasanta, a Socialist MP who presented the report.
He highlighted as an example the handling of the case of Abdelhamid Abaaoud, a Belgian national believed to have been the ringleader of the November attacks.
While in Athens in January 2015, Abaaoud surfaced on the radar of Greek authorities who were aware of his importance as an Isis figure planning attacks on European targets.
That month Belgian police swooped on a terrorist cell in Verviers that had direct links to Abaaoud. The commission said the Belgians forgot to warn the Greek authorities that they were about to swoop until half an hour before the raids. This meant Abaaoud was able to escape from Athens.
“This shows a real difficulty in dialogue and cooperation,” the commission said.
The report also pointed to “unquestionable” failings that allowed Salah Abdeslam, the only surviving member of the November Paris attack team, to flee from France by car to his home country of Belgium hours after the attacks.
At 9.10am on the day after the attacks, Abdeslam was stopped by French gendarmes in a car near the French-Belgian border. He gave his real name and identity papers and the gendarmes held the car for over 40 minutes while they called through to French authorities to check the details against European files.
Abdeslam’s name was in the cross-border information system for common crimes, but the Belgian authorities had failed to add that he was under surveillance as a potential jihadi. The order was given for the French gendarmes to let him go.
An hour later the Belgians called in again with the information about his radicalisation. It was too late; his car had been waved through. Four months later he was arrested in Belgium after one of the biggest manhunts in Europe, and he is currently in a French prison.
The inquiry found that the state of emergency imposed after the November attacks, as well as the deployment of thousands of troops to patrol the streets under a military operation known as Operation Sentinelle, had only a limited impact on security.
The report considered the fact that eight soldiers from Operation Sentinelle who had been present outside the Bataclan during the terrorist attack did not intervene because they had not been given orders to do so. Police officers arriving at the scene asked the soldiers to lend them their assault weapons but the soldiers, obeying army rules, refused to hand them over.
Pietrasanta, who wrote the commission’s final 300-page report that will be made public next week, said that even though there had been threats made against the Bataclan concert hall in the past, and a jihadi returning to France had told an investigating judge months before the attacks about a plan to target a European rock gig, it would not have been possible to accurately predict that the Bataclan would have been a target at that time.
“Thwarting the attacks would have presumed that investigators and intelligence agents had kept in mind all the targets mentioned by terrorists during questioning,” he said.

Paris attacks,Charlie Hebdo attack,Paris,France,Europe,World news

Share this article

DON'T MISS THIS STORIES