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French Officials Admit Terror Attacks Could Have Been Avoided

"Our intelligence services have failed."

06/07/2016 11:10 PM AEST | Updated 06/07/2016 11:10 PM AEST
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The president of the commission of inquiry Georges Fenech (L) speaks to reporters on July 5, 2016 alongside fellow commission member Sebastien Pietrasanta. 

The French intelligence services failed in their duty and could have avoided the worst of the deadly terrorist attacks that rocked Paris in 2015, a scathing report to be released next week finds.

The country's parliamentary commission outlined the report on  “the worst attack on French soil since the end of World War II” ahead of publication on Tuesday. The 30-member commission was created in January to examine the coordinated assaults in France's capital that killed 147 people. The Islamic State militant group claimed responsibility for the November attacks, which followed a deadly shooting spree by extremists on the satirical newspaper Charlie Hebdo and a kosher supermarket in Paris in January 2015.

Georges Fenech, president of the commission, said that better coordination among the French intelligence services would have prevented the deadliest of the November attacks, at Bataclan concert hall.

“Our intelligence services have failed,” he said at a news conference on Tuesday that announced the commission’s findings and proposals. “All, I say all of them, the attackers of the Bataclan, those of Charlie Hebdo, those of the Hyper-Kosher (store) ... and others were all on the radar of our services.”

"We could have avoided the attack of the Bataclan if there had not been these failures,” Fenech added.

He noted that Saleh Abdeslam, a surviving attacker from the November massacres, was able to escape to Belgium afterward, and Abdelhamid Abaaoud -- the man authorities believe was a key organizer -- had traveled freely in Europe despite European authorities’ awareness of his radical activities.

The commission made 40 recommendations for reforms, including the creation of a centralized counter-terrorism intelligence agency like the National Counterterrorism Center that the United States created after the Sept. 11, 2001 attacks.

It also proposed increasing France’s role in efforts to drive the Islamic State out of Iraq and working with Turkey to secure its border with Syria. Abaaoud fought with the extremist group in Syria before returning to Europe.

The commission leaders added that other countries' intelligence failures and the lack of coordination between France and its European partners enabled the attacks, rather than French missteps alone. 

Abdeslam's name did not appear on a European Union data, despite the fact he was known to Belgian authorities as an extremist. French authorities stopped Abdeslam’s car near the border with Belgium hours after the November attacks. They allowed him to proceed when his file showed a criminal record, not a history of terrorism involvement.

The commission recommends improving Europe-wide terrorist prevention efforts in response to this. These include granting Europol, the EU's police agency, and Frontex, its border control agency, full access to the Schengen Information System -- a master list of missing and wanted individuals.

It is expected to release its full report on the November attacks next Tuesday.

The commission’s recommendations are not binding, but they are likely to ratchet up pressure on the French government and other European countries to enact major changes. Last year's Paris attacks, along with bombings in Brussels in March that Islamic State claimed, have revealed major gaps in European security policies.

In related developments, a Paris court sentenced the brother of one of the Paris attackers to nine years' jail on Wednesday for traveling to Syria to train as a militant fighter in 2013, Reuters news agency reports. Karim Mohammed-Aggad's brother Foued was one of the attackers who killed 90 people in the Bataclan theater. 

In Belgium, a court convicted 15 people for plotting a terrorist attack on Tuesday. Several of the convicted criminals had been in close contact with Abaaoud, the suspected leader of the Paris attacks.

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