France's left-wing government tabled legislation yesterday that will allow police to arrest people who visit combat training camps in countries such as Pakistan or Afghanistan. The move came in response to a killing spree six months ago by a gunman inspired by al-Qa'ida.
President François Hollande, whose Socialist government is ditching much of his conservative predecessor's economic policy, is maintaining the tough line on crime and security taken by Nicolas Sarkozy, who had promised similar action against potential terrorists.
The Interior Minister, Manuel Valls, presented the bill six months after seven people, including three Jewish children, were shot by Mohamed Merah, a 23-year-old whose trips to combat camps were known to intelligence services staff who had been tagging him for years.
Those killings, followed by Merah's own death in a hail of police bullets at his flat in the city of Toulouse, were the first of their kind in 15 years and fuelled debate about the police's failure to pounce on him before the incident.
The legislation, if passed by parliament, will make it possible for police to take people into custody for questioning if there is a suspicion that they were involved in terrorism-related activity beyond French borders. At the moment police can act only when offences are suspected or committed inside France.
"The terrorist threat remains high-level in France," said a government statement on the new legislation. "It is essential that we can detect when people, collectively or individually, embark on the road to radicalisation and terrorist violence."
The government will also extend a measure that allows police to access the electronic or internet communications of potential terrorists, the statement said.