France's parliament to begin debating anti-terrorism bill

France's parliament will begin debating an anti-terrorism bill Wednesday that would stiffen prison sentences for convicted terrorists and broaden the use of surveillance cameras. The bill, which would also allow police to monitor citizens who travel to countries known for terror training camps, goes first to the National Assembly, then to the Senate next month. It is expected to win final approval by the end of the year.

Interior Minister Nicolas Sarkozy, who has led the effort to strengthen France's laws against terrorism in response to the July bombings in London, has rejected claims the proposed measures will trample on civil liberties and create a police state. Sarkozy and other top French officials frequently insist that France is at risk of terrorism _ countering speculation that Paris' opposition to the U.S.-led Iraq invasion might provide protection. On Wednesday, the head of the French domestic intelligence agency suggested that recent arrests may have thwarted terror attacks. The terror threat is "real on one hand because a certain number of organizations have designated us as enemies, and on the other because our own investigations reveal, every day a little more, that networks already in place are working on terrorist projects hostile to our country," Pierre de Bousquet de Florian, head of the DST agency, told RTL radio.

Citing examples of arrests already announced by police, the DST chief said a suspect was taken into custody in the southern city of Montpellier this summer after returning from Syria with a plan to attack Italy or France.

He also said authorities had dismantled a cell this fall in Trappes, in the Paris area, "whose clear, avowed goal was to commit major attacks in France."

Seven French citizens had died after joining up with insurgents in Iraq, two of them in suicide bombings, De Bousquet de Florian said. While some French citizens in Iraq have been jailed, at least 13 are still there and likely still fighting, he said, reports the AP. I.L.

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