PARIS (AP) — France announced sweeping new measures to counter homegrown terrorism Wednesday, including giving security forces better weapons and protection, going on an intelligence agent hiring spree and creating a better database of anyone suspected of extremist links.
The measures detailed by Prime Minister Manuel Valls came as four men were handed preliminary charges of providing logistical support to one of the Paris terror attackers — the first charges issued for three days of mayhem that left 20 people dead, including three gunmen.
The new security measures include increased intelligence-gathering on jihadis and other radicals, in part by making it easier to tap phones. Valls said Internet providers and social networks “have a legal responsibility under French law” to comply with the new measures.
Some 2,600 counter-terrorism officers will be hired, 1,100 of them specifically for intelligence services. Anti-terror surveillance is needed for 3,000 people with ties to France — some at home, others abroad, the prime minister said.
Since three police were among those killed by the Paris terrorists, Valls said improving officers’ weapons and protective gear was among the top priorities.
France will spend 425 million euros ($490 million) over the next three years for all the counter-terror efforts, he said.
France has repeatedly strengthened its counterterrorism laws over the years, including a measure passed in November that focused on preventing French extremists from joining fighters abroad. Another measure — expected to be activated in the coming weeks — would allow authorities to ask Internet service providers to block sites that glorify terrorism.
Isabelle Falque-Pierrotin, head of France’s national data protection agency CNIL, told reporters Wednesday her agency would insist that any additional snooping privileges for France’s intelligence services should only be allowed if they are matched by greater protections for personal data.
Falque-Pierrotin said the attack on the satirical newspaper Charlie Hebdo — which had been under police protection due to threats before the Jan. 7 attack that left 12 dead — had come as a “particular shock” to CNIL’s staff because “the protection of personal liberty is our essence.”
Outlining a web of phone calls, shared keys and prison friendships, Paris Prosecutor Francois Molins said the four suspects given preliminary charges — all in their 20s, all arrested in the Paris region — will remain behind bars while the investigation continues.
He identified them only as Willy P., Christophe R., Tonino G. and Mickael A.
Three of the men are suspected of buying weapons — and one kept them at his house — for Amedy Coulibaly. Coulibaly shot a policewoman to death Jan. 8 on the outskirts of Paris and then a day later killed four hostages at a kosher supermarket before being killed in a police raid.
Three of the four suspects charged had criminal records; at least one met Coulibaly in prison, Molins said. Coulibaly himself had met Cherif Kouachi, one of the two gunmen in the Charlie Hebdo attack, in prison.
Among the measures announced by Valls was hiring new officers to counter prison radicalization and segregating those prisoners who are already radicalized.
The DNA of Mickael A. was found on a revolver in Coulibaly’s apartment and on a glove the gunman wore in the supermarket, Molins said. Mickael A. also had 18 phone contacts with Coulibaly on Jan. 6.
Molins said three of the men are believed to have procured weapons and tactical material for Coulibaly but are not charged with complicity in the attacks.
The lawyer for one of those charged said his client was unaware of any terrorist plot and feared Coulibaly since being roughed up by him six years ago.
“Coulibaly is known in this neighborhood as an outlaw, a big shot. People were afraid of him,” said the lawyer, Fabrice Delinde. He would not identify his client for security reasons.
“He (the client) acted as an intermediary so that Coulibaly would not be buying weapons directly. He was forced. If he refused, he would have been beaten,” the lawyer told The Associated Press.
French authorities are also working with other countries to search for other possible accomplices, Molins said. They are especially trying to find out who was responsible for the posthumous video of Coulibaly, which was edited and released days after he and brothers Said and Cherif Kouachi died in standoffs with police.
In the video, Coulibaly pledges allegiance to the Islamic State group and details how the Paris attacks were coordinated by him and the Kouachi brothers.
Lori Hinnant, Jamey Keaten and Greg Keller contributed.
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