PARIS (AP) — France unveiled a wide-ranging new program on Friday to counter radicalization, as French jihadis return from the battlefields of Syria and Iraq and the watch list grows of people showing risk signs.
The plan, announced by Prime Minister Edouard Philippe, is made up of 60 measures and puts the accent on prevention, notably aimed at trying to catch danger signals within society.
It is France’s third effort in less than four years to try to prevent and control a phenomenon that numerous nations are grappling with. France got a late start on the issue even though homegrown Islamic extremists set off deadly bombs in France in the 1990s and more French jihadis went to Syria and Iraq to support the Islamic State group or al-Qaida than other Europeans.
The new plan targets prisons, schools and even sports clubs, and involves specialists and ordinary people on both local and national levels.
“This is a plan of mobilization. It’s a battle that the state alone can’t fight,” Philippe said in Lille, north of Paris, where a prison that holds the most dangerous radicalized prisoners is located.
The plan to counter radicalization includes measures announced by the justice minister to end an unprecedented strike last month by French prison guards, which was triggered by a radicalized prisoner’s attack on a guard. The measures include doubling the number of prisoners evaluated for radicalization to 250 per year and increasing to 1,500 the number of cells devoted to radicalized inmates, held in closed-off areas. By the end of this year, 450 such places will be created. All will have trained staff and high security.
There are currently more than 500 inmates convicted of or awaiting trial for terrorism, and some 1,150 under watch for radicalization, according to the Prison Administration.
While prisons are now known as potential breeding grounds for radicalization, the French government also plans to better regulate and standardize private schools, most of which are run by religious organizations. Many private schools are run by Muslim organizations and “the state cannot lead the fight without the Muslims of France,” Philippe said.
“Radicalization is a durable threat to our society,” the plan’s authors say.
Radicalization has been spotted in the sports world and within the police, the military and civil servants, and mobilizing those sectors to detect the phenomenon is part of the plan, Philippe said.
French cities are to have prevention plans against radicalization by June, he said.
Two decrees will make it possible to remove radicalized soldiers and police from their jobs and a study is examining how to remove radicalized civil servants — not an easy task in France’s heavily regulated labor force.
The plan also has measures to reintroduce into French society minors returning from the battle zone amid the collapse of the Islamic State group in Iraq and Syria. The prime minister says 68 minors, mostly under 13, have returned so far. They will receive long-term care and psychological follow-ups
Philippe rejected the term “deradicalization” to undo the radicalization process because, he said, no one knows how to deprogram an individual caught up in an evolving and little-understood phenomenon. A group of researchers will be charged with trying to understand radicalized individuals.