France’s anti-terror prosecutor, Francois Molins, announced [Le Monde report, in French] his decision Friday to hand down harsher criminal charges, with sentences up to 30 years, for returning French jihadists from Iraq, Syria, and other areas where the Islamic State (IS) is actively involved. Previously, the maximum sentence that could be handed down in such cases was 10 years. According to Molins, the collapse of IS in Iraq and Syria makes the West, including France, vulnerable to increased attacks at home as French jihadists would be forced to return home with IS forces under pressure. Molins stated: “We see clearly in the history of terrorism that when terrorist organisations are in difficulty on their own turf they look for an opportunity to attack abroad.” Moilns further stated that 700 French citizens are fighting for terror groups in Iraq and Syria and “at one moment or another we will face the return of a large number of French fighters and their families.” A large number of those involved in deadly attacks in France last year were French-born. According to Molins, his office is following up on 324 terrorism cases currently compared to 26 cases in 2013.
Tensions in France have been high since an event in Nice in July in which more than 84 citizens were killed [BBC report] by a truck that drove through a crowd celebrating Bastille Day. The Islamic State (IS) has claimed responsibility [ABC News report] for the attack, which followed a call by IS spokesman Abu Muhammad al-Adnani for IS followers to kill non-believers in the West through any means possible. Four men believed to be connected to the attacked were arrested [JURIST report] by authorities later in July. The Bastille Day attack is the second most deadly in a string of terrorist acts in France, including the November 13 Charlie Hebdo attacks [BBC news archive], which claimed 130 lives, and the murder [BBC report] of two French police officials by a man claiming allegiance to IS. Some cities in France have responded to these attacks by imposing bans on full-body “burkini” [JURIST archive] swimsuits, with the Chief lawyer for the City of Nice in France even going as far as stating that the city was “almost on the brink of civil war” [The Guardian report] because of the risk to public order posed by the burkinis.