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What does the term ‘fiche S’ mean?

I heard the term “fiche S” used about the perpetrator of the attacks at the Strasbourg Christmas market. What is this and why was he free to roam? I.I.

Fiches S is a watchlist relating to state security – the “S” stands for sûreté d’Etat – it is an alert system.

At the end of last year, the list contained 29,973 people who are thought to potentially pose a serious threat. Around a third of them were linked to an Islamist movement. Others include anarchists, gangsters and hooligans.

Those who are fiché S have not yet attempted a crime related to the reason for their listing. Some have not committed any crime but are listed because of their acquaintances.

The fiches S are used for information-gathering and cannot be used alone to order an arrest.

They are the highest level of warning in France.

Strasbourg shooter Chérif Chekatt was listed in January 2016 for radicalisation, which probably took place in prison, but had not yet committed a crime in the name of radical Islam.

The objective of fiches S is to trace movements and acquaintances. Those listed are not under permanent surveillance. Only when the file needs to be consulted, say if a fiché S is arrested, does surveillance begin. A listing can be wiped off after a year.

The Interior Ministry states that the objective is to share information between police and other law enforcement agencies, including at European level.

While additions are made by the French intelligence agency (la Direction générale de la sécurité intérieure - DGSI), entries can be made based on information from other countries. This provides information about individuals for the purpose of border control and law enforcement between Schengen states.

Fiches S form part of a larger file called Fichier des personnes recherchées – FPR (wanted persons list) created in 1969.

It should contain the individual’s ID details, their photo, the reason for their inclusion and what action to take in the case of confrontation with the police.

The FPR includes 620,000 people and is divided into 21 sections, including Fichier des signalements pour la prévention et la radicalisation à caractère terroriste (FSPRT), which is exclusively for religious radicals.

This is unlike the fiches S, which is broader and contains, for example, right or left-wing radicals. Most people on the FPR are seen as posing a threat to public order, including escaped prisoners and the insane.

Ten per cent of people listed on the fiches S live in the Bas-Rhin department where Chekatt was born and lived. Local MP Bruno Studer (LREM) told Soir 3 that Strasbourg is a European capital where many events take place and the Bas-Rhin is a border area. He said that there are many international institutions in Alsace, as well as a nuclear power station.

A militant ecologist living in Alsace could be fiché S, for example.

Mayors can be informed of people listed in their area – knowledge which Mr Studer said should be “carefully supervised” and used “prudently”.

Several of those responsible for the terror attacks that have taken place in France in recent years have been fiché S, a fact which often promoted anger as to why they were left at large.

A senate report into making the system more effective largely concluded that, while technical improvements are possible to make it easier to use, what is needed is more communication about what it is for and what it can achieve.

Police argue that the system is efficient, despite the occurrence of attacks committed by fiche S suspects. By not arresting people as soon as they are considered suspects, they say they are able to dismantle networks and prevent terrorist plots.

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