PARIS - In a bid to thwart attacks by militants returning from fighting in Syria and Iraq, France's leftist government has introduced legislation to stop would-be jihadists from leaving the country.
The legislation includes measures aimed to toughen surveillance and detention of suspects with links to radical Islamist groups, including preventing them from leaving French territory,
The step comes amid concerns over reports that scores of young French people have joined more than 1,000 European citizens fighting in Syria or Iraq. According to intelligence reports, around 100 of the French citizens plan to return in the near future.
Interior Minister Bernard Cazeneuve, interviewed on France Info radio before introducing the bill, said the young jihadists witness barbaric acts overseas. They return destroyed and are prepared to commit extremely violent acts back home, which presents a security threat for France and Europe.
Cazeneuve wants to block Internet sites that incite anti-Semitism, terrorism and hatred, at the European and international levels.
"We have a duty to react as almost 800 young people are involved," Interior Minister Bernard Cazeneuve told Tuesday's edition of the daily Le Parisien.
Of that figure, some 600 French nationals are either currently in Syria or planning to go there, he said.
The bill was presented by Cazeneuve to the council of ministers as a 48-year-old woman was charged under anti-terrorism laws after visiting Syria thrice where her son is fighting.
It includes a ban on foreign travel for up to six months for individuals suspected of being radicalized, and gives authorities powers to temporarily confiscate and invalidate their passports.
Airlines will be banned from carrying such passengers and will have to notify French authorities if one of them makes a reservation.
The proposed new law comes in the wake of the arrest of Mehdi Nemmouche, a 29-year-old man suspected of killing four people at the Brussels Jewish museum in May after fighting in Syria with Sunni militants.
The new law would give authorities independent powers to block websites that preach anti-Western jihad.
The new law has drawn criticism from civil rights groups.
The new legislation would create a new offence called "individual terrorist enterprise", which would give authorities the power to take preventative action against so-called "self-radicalised" would-be terrorists.
If the people targeted under the ban do manage to go abroad, they will be the subject of an international arrest warrant.
The proposed bill said the ban would be decided by the interior minister himself and could be extended as long as is necessary. It can apply both to adults and to minors. The government has been criticised for not stopping French nationals as young as 14 from heading to Syria.
France has five million Muslims, the largest number in the European Union, and many are marginalised.
In a related step, in Milan nine EU countries agreed to share intelligence and combat the preaching of jihad on the net.
The EU counter-terrorism co-ordinator, Gille de Kerchove, said: "The recent developments in Iraq will have a 'pull' impact on would-be jihadists. Summer is a period when a lot of teenagers are out of university so they might be tempted to do the trip."