, Paris, France, Oct 3 – French lawmakers are expected Tuesday to pass a tough new counter-terrorism law designed to end the country’s two-year state of emergency, with critics saying it will expand police powers at a cost to civil liberties.
The vote follows a string of attacks in France since 2015 and comes just two days after more bloodshed, in the southern port city of Marseille when a suspected Islamist knifeman killed two women.
In Paris, a homemade bomb attached to a suspected cell phone detonator was found in a building hallway in the wealthy 16th district on Saturday, prompting an anti-terror investigation.
Five people were arrested, including one who is on France’s terror watch list.
Interior Minister Gerard Collomb said the incident “shows that the threat level in France is extremely high.”
– ‘State of war’ –
“We are still in a state of war even if Daesh has suffered some military defeats,” he added, using an Arabic acronym of the Islamic State group (IS).
The group, which claimed responsibility for the Marseille stabbings, is under attack and fast losing turf across the remaining parts of its self-proclaimed caliphate in Iraq and Syria.
Collomb has defended the anti-terror bill as a “lasting response to a lasting threat”, but it has come under fire from the French left and human rights groups.
The law would give authorities the power to place people under house arrest, order house searches and ban public gatherings without the prior approval of a judge.
On Monday, an anti-discrimination group, SOS Racisme, demonstrated outside parliament against provisions that will allow police to profile foreigners and demand to see their IDs.
“People who are supposedly foreigners, black or north African will be stigmatised,” said Thierry Paul Valette, head of another anti-racism group Egalite Nationale, according to French daily Liberation.
The law, designed to replace the state of emergency that France has been under since attacks in Paris in November 2015, would come into force on November 1.
It was passed by the upper house Senate in July and is expected to sail through the National Assembly, where the ruling centrist Republic on the Move (LREM) party has a comfortable majority.
The state of emergency was meant to be temporary but has been extended six times in order to protect major sporting and cultural events, as well as this year’s presidential and general elections.
“There are a lot of people who say (the anti-terror law) kills freedoms (but) if you don’t have it you end up with attacks like that,” Collomb said Tuesday, referring to the Marseille stabbings.
“I’m not saying that we will prevent attacks altogether, but we have already foiled a number of attacks that would have killed many people on French soil,” he said.
The stabbings bring to 241 the number of people killed in jihadist attacks in France since January 2015.
Collomb said on September 12 that 12 planned attacks had been foiled so far this year.
In an environment of widespread fear over Islamist violence, extensions of the state of emergency have met with little public opposition, and surveys suggest most French people back the changes.
– Freedoms ‘eroded’ –
About 57 percent of respondents to a recent Fiducial/Odoxa poll said they were in favour of the bill, with 89 percent saying it would improve security — even though 62 percent said it would undermine their freedoms.
Critics of the new law have been limited largely to leftist politicians and human rights groups, though UN experts also raised objections in a letter to the French government last week.
“Gradually our public freedoms… are being eroded,” said lawmaker Alexis Corbiere of the hard-left France Unbowed party last week.
But some lawmakers from the rightwing Republicans party as well as Marine Le Pen, leader of the far-right National Front, have said the bill does not go far enough.