An ‘evolutive strategy’ for fighting terror

France’s former counterterror czar, Jean-Louis Bruguière, tells the ‘Post’ that states should keep within the confines of the law without resorting to extrajudicial means.

JEAN-LOUIS BRUGUIÈRE (photo credit: Yotam Faram/IDC)
(photo credit: Yotam Faram/IDC)
Jean-Louis Bruguière doesn’t look the part of a feared terrorist hunter. In fact, he doesn’t at all seem to match his reputation as a gunslinging Gallic John Wayne. Then again, Bruguière’s weapon is the law and one thing is clear: He is armed with a steely resolve and is unflinching from his target.
In more than two decades as France’s leading antiterrorist magistrate, Bruguière tracked down Carlos the Jackal, hunted the perpetrators of the shooting at Jo Goldenberg’s, a Jewish restaurant in Paris, and investigated the bombing of a French jet over the Sahara in 1989 with the loss of 170 lives. He also issued a report into the assassination of former Rwandan president Juvenal Habyarimana, who died when his plane – carrying a French crew – was shot down, an event that triggered the Rwandan genocide.
Bruguière, 67, currently the European Union’s representative to the US overseeing the Terrorist Finance Tracking Program, was here recently for a counterterrorism conference organized by the Interdisciplinary Center in Herzliya where he conducted a workshop on the legal aspects of combatting terrorism.
His visit preceded this week’s decision by the US and the UK to issue travel advisories for France and other parts of Europe, but in an e-mail from Paris, Bruguière told The Jerusalem Post that “issuing such a travel advisory without other information could be misunderstood and, as a consequence, provoke anxiety and even panic.”
Bruguière added that while he had “no precise and documented piece of intelligence about the origin and the relevance of the information obtained by the US and the UK... as far as it is concerned, France is facing an increasing threat from AQIM (al- Qaida in the Maghreb), in the Sahel region and in France as well. This threat seems to be different from that pointed out by the US and UK.”
While here, Bruguière spoke of AQIM operating sleeper cells in France. Some reports have now speculated that a recent audio tape from Osama bin Laden may have been aimed at awakening those cells.
Asked whether he was aware of any specific threat to Jewish or Israeli targets from AQIM, Bruguière replied; “No, I have no such an information. It’s not our assessment. The target for AQIM is France, not Jewish or Israeli ones. Since the ’90s, GIA (Armed Islamic Group), then GSPC (Salafist Group for Preaching and Combat) and today AQIM have always considered France as their main target. The beheading of a French citizen and the direct involvement of French commandos against AQIM in Mali two months ago have upgraded the level of the threat.”
SITTING DOWN to talk to the Post during the IDC conference, Bruguière explained how France had built a body of antiterrorist legislation that he described as “stronger than everywhere in Europe” and how there was “no discrepancy between fighting terrorism efficiently and regard for the law.”
Bruguière cited the difference between the French approach and that of the US, which with concepts such as the “War on Terror” and “unlawful combatants” resorted to an approach that implemented methods outside of the rule of law.
“Perhaps because he did not have very strong and efficient legal means that president [George W.] Bush resorted to extrajudicial systems,” Bruguière said to illustrate his point.
“Our strategy,” he said, “is to prevent the state from any incidents. Generally speaking, you have two things: You have prosecutions whose role is to prosecute and to charge those who are suspected of having committed a crime, but this is after the crime, not before, and then you have intelligence whose role is to detect before the crime. Before and after, that’s the normal strategy and you don’t have any bridge between the two.
“We say that what’s important is not to prosecute or to arrest the terrorist – if something occurs, yes of course – but the best way is to concentrate all the means of the state, including the judiciary, to work before and to aim at preventing any incident. What we are doing is working closely with intelligence and others in order to detect and to arrest anyone before they have the capability or even the will to act.
“We consider that the separation of prosecution and detection is a bygone concept. Everybody has to work together to prevent [attacks]. That’s a new approach, a very different approach. That’s not the British or the American approach.”
Bruguière said that France had succeeded in building a “very strong flexible, evolutive strategy to follow the sinews and complex of lines of the threat” and highlighted the need for the judiciary to be flexible and adaptive as well as extremely proactive.
“We also have some tools dedicated to the fight against terrorism which allows judges to prosecute everybody we suspect of backing terrorist activity even if he was not involved in the plot itself. If his activity could benefit a terrorist venture, he could be tried so that legal provision allows us to carry out a very proactive strategy targeting not just the terrorist activity but also all those who are involved in logistical support.
“We can react very quickly when a potential threat is directed. We can react at the first stage not at the final stage when it’s too late. Such a strategy has allowed us to foil four or five attempts at attacks a year since 2002.”
The question is can France foil the next attack?