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French Push Limits in Fight On Terrorism

On three occasions over the past five months, Tubiana said, outside judges assigned to review the vendor's case have set deadlines for investigating magistrates to either indict or release him. The deadlines have passed, but his client remains locked up, court documents show. "There is in fact no control" over these magistrates, he said. "They are all-powerful."

Tubiana cited a new law enacted last year that drops a requirement for French anti-terror police to have an eyewitness when carrying out a search warrant. The requirement had been intended to prevent the planting of fake evidence.

In a 2003 anti-terrorism raid near Paris, police escort handcuffed women from the offices of an Iranian opposition group, the People's Mujaheddin. (Jacques Brinon -- AP)

"There has been a definite erosion of civil liberties in France, and not just with terrorism," Tubiana said. "We're seeing things that would have been unthinkable 10 years ago."

At the same time, Tubiana and other defense attorneys acknowledged that French counterterrorism investigators generally make efficient use of the tools at their disposal.

The Directorate of Surveillance of the Territory, the domestic intelligence agency, employs a large number of Arabic speakers and Muslims to infiltrate radical groups, according to anti-terrorism experts here. Police are also quick to use the threat of preemptive arrest to persuade suspects to work as street informants.

Targeting Clerics

The French government has also stepped up efforts to crack down on radical Islamic clerics. While authorities have long had the right to expel foreigners if they are judged a threat to public safety, lawmakers passed a bill this year that makes it possible to deport noncitizens for inciting "discrimination, hatred or violence" against any group.

The target of the new law: an Algerian-born imam named Abdelkader Bouziane, a cleric living in Lyon who was originally expelled from the country in April after he publicly urged Muslims to attack U.S. targets in France and later told an interviewer that it was permissible for men to engage in polygamy and beat their wives. Bouziane was allowed to return after an appellate court ruled in his favor, but under the modified law was deported last month to Algeria.

Bruno Le Maire, a senior adviser to the interior minister, said authorities have placed about 40 mosques under close surveillance and move quickly whenever they find a cleric preaching radicalism.

"There's not a direct link between what these imams say and terrorism, but there are indirect links that can be dangerous to democracy and the security of our country," he said. "So we have to be very careful with these people."

Other countries, including the United States, have long-standing policies that restrict law enforcement agents from infiltrating places of worship. So far, however, France's aggressive approach has not led to widespread criticism.

Dalil Boubakeur, rector of the Grand Mosque of Paris, said many Muslims support the expulsions and are just as concerned about preventing terrorist attacks as other French citizens. "We find the public arrogance of these extremists completely intolerable," he said. "Fundamentalism is on the rise. . . . This is a real danger. The state should take measures against these types of people that disrupt society, not only when there is a terrorist attack, but before."

Special correspondent Maria Gabriella Bonetti contributed to this report.

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