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Within hours of the revelation last week that a planned armed attack on churches near Paris had been foiled, President François Hollande and prime minister Manuel Valls publicly asserted that it underlined the need for the French government’s proposed new surveillance and intelligence law. This deeply-controversial bill, which gives wide-ranging powers to intelligences services to watch over the population, is currently going through the National Assembly, with a crucial vote due on May 5th. Yet an analysis of the case of arrested student Sid Ahmed Ghlam, who is said to have been planning the assault on two churches at Villejuif near Paris, raises doubts over whether the new powers in the bill would have made any difference. It emerged that Ghlam, who was placed under formal investigation on Friday for terrorist offences, was already known to the security services. Moreover, he had twice been questioned – the second occasion was in February this year – but released each time because officials apparently considered that he did not pose a serious enough risk. Some experts say the authorities should spend more time on prioritising which suspects to watch rather than on seeking new surveillance powers. Jérôme Hourdeaux and Louise Fessard report.
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