PARIS – France's interior minister presented a tough anti-terrorism bill to lawmakers on Wednesday as he warned of the threat of attack by globalized terrorists who exploit Islam in an "odious and injurious way."
"I tell you with gravity: The ingredients of the threat exist; scenarios of violent action on our soil are real," Interior Minister Nicolas Sarkozy said.
Sarkozy has led efforts to strengthen France's laws against terrorism in response to the deadly July bombings in London. He and other top officials have countered speculation that Paris' opposition to the U.S.-led Iraq invasion might make it less of a prospective target for Islamic extremists.
The bill would allow mosques and department stores to install surveillance cameras and stiffen prison terms for terrorists and those providing support. It would also strengthen controls on movements of certain people and on their telephone and electronic exchanges and enable police to monitor citizens who travel to countries known to harbor terror training camps.
Sarkozy sought to assure lawmakers the bill would not trample on civil liberties as some groups fear. Critics have even suggested the measures would turn France into a police state — a claim Sarkozy has dismissed as a "habitual argument."
The most sensitive measures carry a three-year "rendezvous clause," meaning that parliament must renew them in 2008.
Lawmakers in the National Assembly are to vote on the bill next Tuesday, and senators are to examine the measures in December before final adoption by the end of the year.
Sarkozy said terrorism has changed its face: It is ideological, sometimes apocalyptic, highly mobile and without borders.
"From a localized terrorism, we have passed to a globalized terrorism exploiting modern tools of communication and destruction" and using Islam "in an odious and injurious way to cover its crimes and momentum," he said.
"The time has come to take note of these mutations ... which force us to adjust our posture and our modes of protection," he said.
Sarkozy said the top threat against France comes from groups outside the country. He cited, without elaborating, the Algerian Salafist Group for Call and Combat, which has declared allegiance to al-Qaida.
Pierre de Bousquet de Florian, head of the French domestic counterterrorism agency, suggested in an interview with RTL radio Wednesday that recent arrests may have thwarted terror attacks.
He said a suspect was taken into custody in the southern city of Montpellier this summer after returning from Syria with a plan to attack Italy or France. He also said a cell dismantled this fall in the Paris area had a "clear, avowed goal" to commit "major attacks in France."
Sarkozy, in his address to lawmakers, said that since the start of 2002, more than 367 people have been detained and nearly 100 placed under investigation and jailed in suspected terrorism-related cases. Since January, 19 radical Muslim preachers have been expelled from France.
France has some of Europe's toughest anti-terrorism laws, enacted after attacks here in the 1980s and 1990s. The bill would be the fourth addition to France's anti-terror laws since 2001.