France has been a target of international terrorism due to the situation in the Middle East in the 1980s, then in relation to the Islamic Armed Group (Groupe Islamique Armée, GIA) in Algeria in the 1990s, and, since 2001, in relation to international jihadist movements inspired or connected to Al Qaida (assassinations and kidnappings of French residents in Saudi-Arabia, Mauritia, Mali, Algeria and Afghanistan in 2007, 2008, and 2009).
Accordingly, the French legislator reacted to each terrorist wave with the enactment of new laws. Thus the four major counter-terror laws are the ones of 1986 (Law no. 86-1020 of 9 September), of 1996 (Law no. 96-647 of 22 July), of 2001 (Law no. 2001-1062 of 15 November), and of 2006 (Law no. 2006-64 of 23 January).
Following the terror attacks of 1986 a first anti-terror law was adopted (Law no. 86-1020 of 9 September), which did not create any new crimes, but put certain crimes committed in a terrorist context under a special regime, to which certain special procedural rules applied. Since then, certain offences, such as the act of environmental terrorism (article 421-2 of the Penal Code), the association with terrorist criminals (article 421-2-1 of the Penal Code) and financing of terrorism (article 421-2-2 of the Penal Code), are now distinct crimes. Moreover, the combat of terrorism was centralised in Paris. Thus, the judiciary, the prosecution, and, since 2006, also execution of sentences are concentrated in Paris for terrorist affairs. Along with this centralisation goes an enhanced specialisation of the competent judges and prosecutors. Although this specialisation provides enhanced knowledge and expertise for terrorist affairs, at the same time it leads to a dangerous concentration of very far-reaching powers in the hands of a few. Another characteristic element of this Law was that terrorism was not defined, but instead, a list of certain offences was created which, in combination with an additional subjective element, were subjected to different procedural and sentencing rules (apart from certain distinctive offences cited above). These special rules include prolonged police custody (garde à vue) of up to four days and house searches without needing the consent of the owner. Similarly to the UK’s policy, the French legislator also removed lay judges from courts dealing with terrorist offences, and attributed the competence of trying terrorist cases to a special Assize Court.