The French government fears a wave of extreme left-wing terrorism this year with the possible sabotage of key infrastructure, kidnappings of major business figures or even bomb attacks.
Secret French government reports describe an “elevated threat” from an “international European network ... with a strong presence in France” after the radicalization of “a new generation of activists” in recent years.
Senior analysts and experts linked to the government have drawn parallels with the Action Directe group, which carried out 50 or more attacks in the early 1980s. Others cite the example of the Baader-Meinhof gang.
A report by the French domestic intelligence service talks of “a rebirth of the violent extreme left” across Europe that is likely to be aggravated by the effects of the economic crisis. Other secret documents expose alleged links with activists in Italy, Greece, Germany and the UK.
“It has been growing for three or four years now and the violence is getting closer and closer to real terrorism,” said Eric Denece, director of the French center of intelligence research and a former Defense Ministry consultant.
While some believe such claims to be scaremongering, the present political atmosphere is tense, with many among right-wing French President Nicolas Sarkozy’s aides fearing a repeat of the violence in Athens last month, when angry and alienated young people and a hard core of violent left-wing extremists rioted for several days, causing significant damage and bringing the city to a halt.
Last week flyers around Paris called on young people “forced to work for a world that poisons us” to follow the example of their Greek counterparts.
“The insurrection goes on. If it takes hold everywhere, no one can stop it,” the posters said.
The recent intelligence reports have blamed violent demonstrations against changes in employment law in 2006, often by middle-class young people, for the recruitment of large numbers of new activists.
A series of incidents last year confirmed the fears of French police. Last January two activists were arrested in possession of what was alleged to be bomb-making materials. In November nine people were arrested after a lengthy surveillance operation in the central French village of Tarnac, where they had set up a commune.
Two of the alleged ringleaders, Julien Coupat, 34, and his partner Yildune Levy, 25, are still in prison accused of sabotaging high-speed TGV railway lines and “associating with wrongdoers with terrorist aims.”
Gilles Gray, assistant director of economic protection of the French domestic intelligence service, spoke recently of “a philosophy that was spreading in Europe.”
The arrests in Tarnac were “a strong message ... addressed to those who might be thinking about committing similar acts,” he said. “We hope that this affair has put a stop for a time to this kind of violent action [and will avoid] a return of Action Directe.”