How does justice decide that an attack is terrorist in nature?

The attack on a police crew, Monday, November 8 in Cannes, will it be considered a terrorist act by justice? The question is not yet decided. For the moment, it is still the Grasse public prosecutor’s office that is conducting the investigations without at this stage, the National Anti-Terrorism Prosecutor’s Office (PNAT) having decided to take up the facts that occurred at 6.30 a.m. near the police station. of Cannes. A 37-year-old Algerian national then stabbed two policemen who, protected by their bulletproof vests, were not physically injured. Hit twice by fire from a third police officer, the attacker was taken to hospital but his life-threatening prognosis is no longer engaged.

→ READ. Cannes: what we know about the attack on a police officer with a knife

The case attracted some attention, with a police source claiming, very soon after the incident, that the “Terrorist trail” was “ envisaged ”. The parquet floor of Grasse remained cautious. “Once immobilized on the ground and questioned by a police officer on the motive for his act, the assailant would have replied: for the prophet”, he indicated while specifying that the search carried out at his home ” did not highlight any element of radicalization or membership of a jihadist organization ”.

Case by case

On what criteria is justice based to consider that an act is terrorist in nature? The question comes up regularly in the news. In Colombes (Hauts-de-Seine), on October 22, police officers killed a man who had attacked them with a knife while shouting ” God is great “. On November 2, these are the same words that a man said after threatening two railway security officers at the Saint-Lazare station in Paris who, in response, seriously injured him. In both cases, the facts did not give rise to a referral to the anti-terrorism prosecution. “Each case is specific. It is not enough for a person to commit an offense by shouting “Allah akbar” for the act to automatically qualify as a terrorist. Each time, it is on a case-by-case basis following a rigorous legal and factual analysis ”, we specify to the PNAT.

The anti-terrorism prosecution decides on its referral on the basis of article 421-1 of the Penal Code. This stipulates that certain offenses “Constitute acts of terrorism, when they are intentionally linked to an individual or collective enterprise aimed at seriously disturbing public order by intimidation or terror”. From there, the PNAT takes into account the facts but also the context. “We will look at the nature of the act and its seriousness. The fact that the attack affects police officers may be a factor since we know that it is a designated target of terrorists. But we will also have to demonstrate a terrorist intention on the part of the author and a specific desire to seriously disturb public order through intimidation or terror ”, we specify to the anti-terrorism prosecution.

“Beyond the act, we look at the meaning that the person has given it”

A decisive element will be, for example, the fact of discovering in the phone or the computer of the attacker of the links with a terrorist organization or a regular consultation of jihadist propaganda. “But this is far from always being the case”, underlines a magistrate. The profile of the aggressor and his mental state are also closely examined. “Beyond the act, we look at the meaning that the person has given it. And theTojoining a company terrorist maybe more hard to be demonstrated in a person suffering from psychological or psychiatric disorders “, we add to the PNAT.

Researcher at the Center for Sociological Research on Law and Penal Institutions (Cesdip), Olivier Cahn believes that the Penal Code maintains a certain vagueness. “From when is an offense considered to“ seriously ”disturb public order? The notion of bullying, too, raises questions. Some, for example, might feel that threatening to blow up a business may amount to terrorist intimidation. », He explains, estimating that with time, the decisions taken by the PNAT to take up or not a particular file, “Will create a sort of de facto case law which, we hope, will bring some consistency to this imprecise text. “

The researcher also mentions the means made available to the PNAT. “This one has a number of magistrates obviously more important than a local public prosecutor’s office, but it does not have either extensible means to infinity. Even if this is not always said openly, the question necessarily arises of the adequacy between the means and the number of files that can be treated, emphasizes the researcher. Investigating a terrorist act indeed supposes carrying out detailed and time-consuming acts, and I can understand that the PNAT dismisses certain weak files, which will lead nowhere, to concentrate on files with more important stakes. “


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