French president Macron creates new counterterrorism unit

AP News
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Posted: Jun 07, 2017 7:22 AM

PARIS (AP) — French President Emmanuel Macron held a special meeting Wednesday to create a new counterterrorism unit to improve intelligence-sharing and elaborate security strategies, one day after a man attacked a police officer in front of Notre Dame Cathedral in Paris.

The "national center of counterterrorism" was formally presented Wednesday during a defense council at the Elysee palace, in the presence of government members and top security officials.

The unit, composed of about 20 people, will supervise all counterterrorism efforts.

It will be based at the Elysee, will operate 24 hours a day and will act directly under the president's authority — an unprecedented situation in the country, where some observers have denounced a lack of coordination between foreign and domestic intelligence services.

A top official at the French presidency said the new unit will notably determine strategies to fight against radicalization on the internet and diffusion online of instructions on how to carry out an attack. It will also focus on the issue of French citizens who joined the Islamic State group in Syria and Iraq before trying to come back to national territory.

The official spoke anonymously in line with the presidency's customary practice.

The creation of the unit was a campaign promise of Macron, in a country marked by a series of attacks by Islamic extremists.

The counterterrorism center will be led by Pierre de Bousquet de Florian, former head of a French counterespionage agency. New chiefs for the foreign intelligence service and domestic intelligence service will be formally named on June 21.

In addition, the government will ask parliament to extend a state of emergency from July 15, its current expiration date, until Nov. 1. It would be the sixth extension of the state of emergency, which gives police exceptional powers, since deadly attacks in November 2015.

It will also present a bill on June 21 to reinforce security measures permanently beyond the state of emergency.