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French Parliamentary Report Cites Widespread Failure To Prevent Attacks

STEVE INSKEEP, HOST:

And let's move on, now, to another story on this Tuesday morning. We're going to go to France. French authorities are thinking about security. NPR's Eleanor Beardsley reports on an examination of security agencies after last year's attacks on Paris.

ELEANOR BEARDSLEY, BYLINE: In light of last year's two terrorist attacks that took nearly 150 lives, Georges Fenech, president of the examining committee, gave a damning assessment.

GEORGES FENECH: (Through interpreter) Our intelligence services failed, and no one can deny it. All of the terrorists - the three from the Bataclan concert hall, the two who attacked Charlie Hebdo magazine and the one who held up the kosher supermarket - were all known to authorities.

BEARDSLEY: The commission recommended streamlining France's six principal domestic and foreign intelligence services. It said many of the attackers had been able to slip through the bureaucratic cracks. One example of failure - Cherif Kouachi, one of the Charlie Hebdo gunmen, went off the radar when he moved from Paris to another city several months before the attack.

Kouachi, like several of the attackers, had also served time in prison 10 years prior to the attacks. Marc Hecker is a terrorism expert with the French Institute of International Relations. He says the current debate about what should've been done is also about the choices European society has made.

MARC HECKER: In Europe, we laid the blame on the U.S. when you opened the Guantanamo facility, saying that it was against human rights and so on. But now we discover that if you send young jihadists to jail for a short period, then they, at some point, get out of jail. And they won't be deradicalized. Sometimes, they will be even more radicalized. And they can try to perpetrate new attacks.

BEARDSLEY: The report says France must better monitor prisons where radicalization of inmates is a major problem. And it recommends lengthening sentences of those convicted of terrorist-related offenses. The French Parliament is already working on a bill.

(SOUNDBITE OF MARCHING BAND)

BEARDSLEY: Last month, President Francois Hollande presided over a ceremony for a young couple, both police officers who were murdered by a French citizen in their homes in front of their child. In 2011, the self-proclaimed Islamist extremist had served time in prison for involvement with jihadist recruiting rings. Jacques Di Bona is a former head of police anti-terrorist operations.

JACQUES DI BONA: (Through interpreter) Sentences have to be longer, and so do probation periods. The couple's killer was caught back on the phone with jihadist networks in 2015. But he'd served his time and was no longer under probation. So nothing was done about it.

BEARDSLEY: The report's top recommendation is to beef up domestic intelligence in order to spot early signs of radicalization. Yasser Louati is a human rights activist fighting Islamophobia in France.

YASSER LOUATI: Once these kids grow up feeling outside of society and being excluded and hating their own countries, that's the starting point. The only thing remaining is for a terrorist organization to tell them, we will give you the tools to fight for your dignity, your honor, et cetera, et cetera.

BEARDSLEY: Another recommendation is for better Europe-wide cooperation. The November 13 attacks in Paris were planned in Belgium. And most of the attackers were from Brussels. Marc Hecker.

HECKER: The paradox is that we created a zone where citizens can move freely. But we did not create a European police that can control this movement.

BEARDSLEY: The head of France's domestic intelligence agency says the biggest threat comes from people who have traveled to Iraq and Syria. Some 1,200 French citizens have done so. Eleanor Beardsley, NPR News, Paris. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.