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France Forms Counter-Terrorism Task Force a Day after Notre Dame Attack | ASHARQ AL-AWSAT English Archive 2005 -2017
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France creates new counter-terrorism task force after Notre Dame attack. (AFP)

France unveiled on Wednesday a new counter-terrorism task force a day after a hammer-wielding man attacked police officers near Notre Dame Cathedral in Paris.

The force is comprised of all intelligence services that will coordinate responses to attacks.

The performance of France’s intelligence services have come under close scrutiny since the November 2015 attacks on Paris, when militant gunmen and suicide bombers struck entertainment venues across the capital, killing 130 people.

In total, more than 230 people have been killed in a wave of attacks in France either claimed by or inspired by ISIS over the past two-and-a-half years.

Newly-elected President Emmanuel Macron, portrayed by rivals as weak on security during the presidential campaign, last month instructed the task force be created to bring together France’s multiple security agencies inside the Elysee presidential palace.

Macron on Wednesday appointed Pierre de Bousquet de Florian to head the new intelligence task force known as the National Center for Counter Terrorism. It will be under direct authority of the president.

Bousquet de Florian once headed France’s DST regional intelligence service that was disbanded under former president Nicolas Sarkozy.

It will include some 20 people representing the various security services and be operational 24 hours seven days a week.

“This has been created to ensure that the intelligence services truly cooperate,” said a French presidency official.

Macron also named career diplomat Bernard Emie, who served as ambassador to Britain, Turkey, Libya and Jordan, as head of the DGSE external intelligence service.

In Tuesday’s attack, a 40-year-old Algerian student armed with a hammer and kitchen knives shouted “this is for Syria” as he wounded a policeman, before being shot by police officers.

A source close to the investigation said a video in which the attacker pledged allegiance to ISIS had been found in his flat during a police raid on Tuesday evening.

Government spokesman Christophe Castaner said that the assailant had not previously “shown any signs of radicalization”.

A surveillance video obtained by Reuters showed the assailant running up to three police officers in the square outside Notre Dame and attempting to land a blow with the hammer. One officer was hurt before the aggressor was shot in the chest.

The man was placed in custody in hospital, where he is being treated.

Documents found on the attacker identified him as an Algerian doctorate student studying the media at a university in eastern of France.

Castaner told RTL radio on Wednesday that the attack was an “isolated act”.

The 22-year-old police officer sustained minor neck injuries in the assault in the packed square at one of France’s most visited tourist attractions.

The attack comes as France is on high alert after extremists killed seven people in London on Saturday.