France clamps down on radical Islam in prisons, schools

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French Prime Minister Edouard Philippe (C) speaks with students and professors during a meeting at the professional High School Cesar-Baggio, in Lille, as part of a visit with French Education Minister, on February 23, 2018. / AFP PHOTO / PHILIPPE HUGUEN

The French government said Friday said it would seal off extremists within prisons and open new centers to reintegrate returning jihadists into society as part of a plan to halt the spread of radical Islam. France is experimenting with various ways of ending the drift towards extremism of young people growing up on the margins of society, in predominantly immigrant suburbs where organizations like the Islamic State group or Al-Qaeda recruit.

The plan unveiled Friday is the third in four years and aims to draw lessons from past failures, after three years marked by a series of attacks that left over 240 people dead. “No one has a magic formula for ‘deradicalisation’ as if you might de-install dangerous software,” Prime Minister Edouard Philippe said in the northern city of Lille where he presented his strategy, flanked by a dozen ministers.

“But in France and elsewhere there are good approaches to prevention and disengagement.” France is particularly keen to stop extremism flourishing in its prisons, where some of the jihadists behind attacks in recent years first came under the spell of hardliners. A total of 512 people are currently serving time for terrorism offenses in France and a further 1,139 prisoners have been flagged up as being radicalized.

To prevent extremism spreading further, Philippe said he would create 1,500 places in separate prison wings “especially for radicalized inmates”. He also announced plans for three new centers that will attempt to reintegrate radicals referred by French courts, including jihadists returning from fallen IS strongholds in the Middle East.

A first de-radicalisation trial ended in failure last July, with a center in western France that operated on a voluntary basis shutting after less than a year with no improvements to show.

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