A French inquiry into the terror attacks that rocked Paris in 2015 has recommended a fusion of the country’s intelligence services after the “global failure” of the country’s myriad agencies.
The parliamentary inquiry was set up in February to probe possible security failings in the run-up to the two major militant attacks in Paris last year that left 147 people dead.
“The two big intelligence bosses admitted during their hearings that the 2015 attacks represent a ‘global intelligence failure’,” said Socialist lawmaker Sebastien Pietrasanta.
France currently has six different intelligence units answering to the interior, defence and economy ministries.
After 200 hours of hearings, lawmakers found that the different agencies had struggled to communicate about known Islamists who had either been under surveillance, in prison or had their phones tapped at some point before carrying out attacks.
The president of the commission of inquiry, former judge Georges Fenech, said that the barriers between the various intelligence services led to the surveillance of Charlie Hebdo attacker Said Kouachi being lifted when he moved from Paris to the northeastern city of Reims.
The next time he was heard of was when he and his brother Cherif opened fire at the satirical weekly in Paris on January 7 last year, killing 12 people.
Two days later, Amedy Coulibaly, who met Cherif in prison, took shoppers hostage at a Jewish supermarket, killing four people.
He also shot dead a policewoman in Paris.
Justice Minister Jean-Jacques Urvoas said during his hearing that Coulibaly – a known radical and repeat offender – represented intelligence failings within the prison system, having been released from custody without being put under surveillance.
The French system of judicial supervision, whereby terror suspects not deemed dangerous enough to be remanded in custody are instead ordered to report regularly to the police, also contained “weaknesses”, said Pietrasanta.
Samy Amimour, who was involved in the attack on the Bataclan concert hall on November 13, when a team of militants killed 130 people across Paris nightspots, was able to travel to Syria in 2013 despite a ban on leaving France.
The lawmakers heard from an anti-terrorism judge that terrorists were subject to the same level of surveillance as small-time crooks who peddle marijuana when released from prison under court supervision.
The commission of inquiry recommended a single anti-terrorism agency modelled along the lines of the US National Counter-terrorism Centre (NTC) that was set up after the September 11, 2001 attacks in the US.
It also called for the creation of a dedicated prison intelligence office.
“Faced with the threat of international terrorism we need to be much more ambitious ... in terms of intelligence,” Fenech said. “Our country was not ready, now we must get ready.”
Pietrasanta said the intervention of security forces on the night of November 13 had been “fast, effective and showed they were capable of working together”.
However, he questioned the merits of having three different specialised units, the paramilitary intervention group GIGN, the police unit RAID and another elite police force specialising in hostage situations, the BRI.
Pietrasanta said that even though there had been threats against the Bataclan concert hall, where 90 people were massacred, the attack there could not have been avoided.
“Thwarting the attacks would have presumed that investigators and intelligence agents had kept in mind all the targets mentioned by terrorists during questioning,” he said.
The commission was formed at the request of the conservative opposition Republicans party, to examine the resources put in place by the state to fight terrorism following the January 2015 attacks.
The inquiry also found that a state of emergency imposed after the attacks and deployment of thousands of troops to patrol the streets had only a “limited impact” on security.
“The state of emergency had an impact but it seemed to quickly diminish,” Pietrasanta said of the measure, which is still in place nearly eight months later.
The inquiry also questioned the “real added value” of Operation Sentinelle, under which thousands of soldiers were deployed to protect schools, synagogues, department stores and other sensitive sites.
Former judge Fenech (centre left) and Socialist lawmaker Sebastien Pietrasanta (centre right) are seen at a press conference in Paris to present the conclusions of French inquiry into the terror attacks that rocked Paris last year.