Paris: France is tracking hundreds of people believed to belong to possible sleeper cells for terror organizations like al-Qaida or the Islamic State group, the country's top security official said.
In an interview with The Associated Press, Interior Minister Bernard Cazeneuve laid out what has become an increasingly urgent question for European intelligence services: How to trace the moment when someone transforms from a disgruntled criminal or a disaffected citizen into a terrorist, and how to block those first steps toward radicalization.
"Four hundred targets have been identified by our intelligence services that are more or less sleeper cells, affiliated or in relation with al-Qaida-type organizations, that can strike like the Kouachi brothers," Cazeneuve said in an interview late Monday.
Said and Cherif Kouachi were French-born brothers who killed 12 people in Paris on Jan. 7 when they stormed the satirical newspaper Charlie Hebdo. They were shot dead by police in a confrontation two days later.
Cazeneuve said he wants new measures to give intelligence services more leeway to monitor suspects' electronic communications.
He is heading to the United States on Wednesday to try and persuade Internet giants to step up and help stem extremists' ability to use propaganda videos to recruit and indoctrinate new followers.
Facebook, Twitter, Apple and Google — all major vectors for increasingly sophisticated jihadi clips targeting potential followers in the West — will be among his stops in Silicon Valley.
"Ninety percent of those who commit terrorist acts fall into it after regularly consulting websites or blogs that call for or provoke terrorism," Cazeneuve said.
With the news that the suspected gunman in the deadly Copenhagen attacks this weekend may have been radicalized during a series of stints in jail like at least two of the gunmen in the Paris attacks last month Cazeneuve's trip to the US to strengthen intelligence sharing between governments and win over the tech firms takes on added importance.
The pace of foreign fighters joining the Islamic State and other extremist groups has not slowed and at least 3,400 come from Western nations among 20,000 from around the world, US intelligence officials say.
"We won't be able to deal with this subject by always brushing the dust under the rug," Cazeneuve said. "At some point the dust gets thicker than the rug."
The minister said the Kouachi brothers were under French surveillance from 2011 until 2014 after the US government tipped off the French about Said Kouachi's trip to Yemen, but the monitoring produced nothing that indicated the brothers were on the verge of a deadly attack.