France issues first charges against four men in Paris attacks

An anonymous art installation showing a broken pencil is displayed on the pavement near the Charlie Hebdo office in Paris, Tuesday, Jan. 20, 2015. Terror attacks by French Islamic extremists should force the country to look inward at its "ethnic apartheid," the prime minister said Tuesday as four men faced preliminary charges on suspicion of links to one of the gunmen. (AP Photo/Francois Mori)



French security forces will get better weapons and protection to fight terror and the country will hire 2,600 new counter-terrorism officers, the prime minister announced Wednesday.


The news came as the Paris prosecutor said four men suspected of providing logistical support to one of the Paris terror attackers have been charged with associating with terrorism — the first charges handed out for the mayhem that left 20 people dead, including three gunmen.


Prime Minister Manuel Valls said the government will spend 425 million euros ($490 million) on counter-terrorism over three years in response to the Paris attacks. Three police were among those killed by the gunmen.


France will also bolster its intelligence apparatus, introducing a measure to make it easier to tap phones, he said. In addition, 3,000 people with ties to France — some at home, others abroad, will be monitored by anti-terror surveillance agents.


Outlining a web of phone calls, shared keys and prison friendships, Paris Prosecutor Francois Molins said the four suspects — all in their 20s, all arrested in the Paris region — were handed preliminary charges overnight and will be jailed until a further investigation.


The prosecutor identified the suspects only as Willy P., Christophe R., Tonino G. and Mickael A.


Three of the men are suspected of buying weapons — and one kept them at his house — for Amedy Coulibaly, who shot a policewoman to death Jan. 8 on the outskirts of Paris and then a day later killed four hostages at a kosher supermarket before being killed in a police raid.


Three of the four men charged had criminal records; at least one met Coulibaly in prison, Molins said. Coulibaly himself had met Cherif Kouachi, one of the two brothers who killed 12 people at the Paris newspaper Charlie Hebdo, in prison.


The DNA of Mickael A. was found on a revolver in Coulibaly’s apartment and on a glove the gunman wore in the supermarket. Molins also said Mickael A. had 18 phone contacts with Coulibaly on Jan. 6.


Molins said three of the men are believed to have procured weapons and tactical material for Coulibaly, but are not charged with complicity in the attacks.


The lawyer for one of those charged said his client was unaware of any terrorist plot and was afraid of Coulibaly. Lawyer Fabrice Delinde told BFM television said the gunman “terrorized my client” and intimidated him into helping. He would not identify his client, for his own security.


Molins said authorities in France are working with other countries to search for other possible accomplices. They are especially trying to uncover who was responsible for the posthumous video of Coulibaly, which was edited and released days after he and brothers Said and Cherif Kouachi died in standoffs with police.


In the video, Coulibaly pledges allegiance to the Islamic State group and details how the attacks were coordinated by the three men.


France has repeatedly strengthened its counterterrorism laws over the years, most recently with a new measure passed in November centering on preventing French extremists from joining fighters abroad. One measure — which is expected to be activated in the coming weeks — would allow administrative authorities to ask Internet service providers to block sites that glorify terrorism.


Meanwhile, France’s cyber-vulnerabilities have come into view. Interior Minister Bernard Cazeneuve said Tuesday that Islamic extremist-hackers have claimed responsibility for more than 1,300 attacks on French civilian and military Web sites since the Paris terror attacks. The low-grade vandalism, like altering Web sites or home pages, was aimed to show sympathy with the terrorists.


Overnight Wednesday, the Twitter feed of Le Monde newspaper was hacked by the Syrian Electronic Army, a group that aligns itself with Syrian President Bashar Assad.