The French government is resisting pressure from conservative mayors who are demanding access to a confidential list of security suspects, including thousands suspected of Islamist radicalization.
Interior Minister Bernard Cazeneuve said this week he would not provide the information to mayors who want to act against – presumably by trying to expel – residents of their cities and towns who appear on the so-called S File or S List.
Cazeneuve in a newspaper interview pointed out that people on the list, while they are monitored, are not subject to an arrest warrants “because there is no proof that they are really dangerous. They are only suspects.”
“The need for confidentiality in the investigations is essential,” he added. “Thanks to the confidentiality in the investigations, we have arrested 355 people linked to terrorist networks since January.”
Cazeneuve said the government should find a way to involve mayors in the process of preventing radicalization, but without hampering the efficiency of the intelligence agencies and their work.
Last month Guy Lefrand, the conservative mayor of Evreux, a small town in Normandy, asked intelligence and police agencies to provide him with names of people on the S List living in his city and suspected of being radicalized.
“France is under a state of emergency, and it is the duty of the state to give us access to the S List,” he told reporters at the time. “If the state won’t provide this information, I demand that they take the responsibility for removing these people from my town.”
Several other mayors joined their voices to Lefrand’s. The Association of Mayors of France plans to meet with Cazeneuve in the coming weeks to discuss the issue.
Nicolas Sarkozy, the former president who is running for a fresh term in elections next year, has promised that if he is elected he will immediately organize a referendum to ask whether citizens agree those listed in the S List should be subject to administrative detention.
First created in 1969, the S (the S stands for State Security) List includes the names of people considered potentially dangerous and therefore subject to surveillance by police and intelligence agencies.
Those listed include gangsters, anarchists, unionists, anti-nuclear campaigners and suspected Islamist radicals or Muslims in the process of radicalization. It includes people who have visited jihadist websites, met with radicals outside mosques in France, or traveled – or tried to travel – to Syria to join the jihad.
Today some 20,000 people are listed, of whom around 10,500 are suspected radicals or individuals in the process of becoming radicalized, according to numbers published at the beginning of 2016. The individuals are under physical and phone surveillance but are only subject to arrest if they commit a crime, or are suspected to be ready to do so.
The list is overseen by France’s internal and external security agencies, and only their staffers, along with senior government officials, have access. Even where police are instructed to monitor someone listed, the agencies do not generally give reasons.
Nathalie Goulet, a center-right senator and vice-chairwoman of the foreign affairs committee, initially supported divulging the names of listed people, but has changed her position.
“I agree with Interior Minister Cazeneuve not to give names to mayors or to anyone else,” she said in a phone interview. “I think it is important that intelligence agencies work in confidentiality. And don’t forget that not only does the list encompass a lot of different people, not all linked to terrorism or radicalization, but that they have not been prosecuted.”
Goulet said some of the mayors who are pressuring Cazeneuve are motivated by the upcoming elections.
“They know that there are only presumptions against the listed people, and nothing else,” she added.