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French Lawmakers Urge Changes To National Counterterrorism Efforts

Lawmakers investigating the deadly terrorist attacks in Paris last year have laid out a long list of failures on the part of French authorities — and proposed dozens of reforms to prevent future attacks in France.

The militants responsible for attacks in January and November of 2015 were known to various government agencies, according to the commission investigating the attacks.

But intelligence failures marked the lead-up to the attacks, which killed nearly 150 people, the lawmakers found.

The special parliamentary commission has laid out dozens of proposals for how to prevent such an attack in the future, NPR's Eleanor Beardsley reports.

Chief among them is to create a U.S.-style counter-terrorism agency, she reports: "A main proposal is to create a centralized national antiterrorism agency which would merge under a unified command France's three elite intervention forces," Eleanor says.

"The report said lapses included dropping surveillance of several of the attackers," she notes.

A number of other failures were alleged by the commission, The Associated Press reports.

For instance, Abdelhamid Abaaoud, who played a key role in the November attacks, was known in Belgium and "detected" in Greece in early January, The AP reports. If the two countries had coordinated, commission president Georges Fenech said, Abaaoud could have been arrested.

Between that and other intelligence lapses, "we could have avoided the attack of the Bataclan if there had not been these failures," Fenech said, according to the AP.

Then, during the moments of crisis, rule-bound officials and rivalries between agencies kept the military and the police from effectively responding, the commission found.

For instance, soldiers at the Bataclan concert hall in November refused to lend their weapons to police officers, the AP reports. And when a specialized team of police officers arrived, another unit was already inside, and the intervention experts weren't put in charge.

In addition to creating a new counterterrorism center, the commission also proposes preventing the reduction of the sentences of those convicted of terror-related crimes, the AP reports.

"The commission, which took testimony from 190 people and traveled to a half-dozen countries, also proposed seeking a more secure Turkish-Syrian border since French and other European youths use Turkey as a pathway to the Islamic State group's areas in Syria," the wire service writes. "They also proposed more Europol agents at 'hotspots' in Greece, to better manage the migrant flux."

The AP reports that some critics are already concerned the recommendations won't lead to concrete shifts in policy.

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Camila Flamiano Domonoske covers cars, energy and the future of mobility for NPR's Business Desk.
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