France unveils plan for de-radicalization

May 10, 2016, 12:44 PM EDT
French P.M. Manuel Valls.
(Source: Parti socialiste/flickr)

France announced on Monday that it will set up a dozen de-radicalization centers across the country to identify potential extremists and prevent them from joining jihadist groups. These “reinsertion and citizenship centres” in each region of the country are part of a two year, $45.5 million plan to combat home-grown terrorism.

France was traumatized a series of terrorist attacks in and around Paris by Islamist gunmen last January and November, which killed 147 people. Most of the perpetrators were French citizens, who had become radicalized before doing what around 2,000 other French residents have done: travelled to Syria and Iraq to fight with ISIS. And the homegrown threat is far from contained-- the French government estimates there are more than 9,000 radicalized people or would-be jihadists in its midst.

According to the Guardian, the Inter-ministerial Committee for the Prevention of Delinquency and Radicalisation will oversee the new program, which calls on public, private, religious and secular groups to join forces under the umbrella of a national coordination group. An anonymous freephone number for members of the public to report extremist suspects to the police and help for families of those who have been radicalised, both set up in 2014 under a previous de-radicalisation plan are to be extended.

Additionally, measures to protect vulnerable sites (including public transport and nuclear facilities) against terrorist attacks are to be tightened, and France’s intelligence and security services will receive more staff and funding.

According to P.M. Manuel Valls, the de-radicalization centers will house young people who “could have repented and who we will test the sincerity and willingness to be reintegrated back into society for the long term.” At least half of the new centers will hold those deemed by a judge to be at risk of radicalization but cannot be placed in detention, he added.

Last week an undercover French reporter who had infiltrated a homegrown ISIS cell told AFP "One of the main lessons was that I never saw any Islam in this affair. No will to improve the world. Only lost, frustrated, suicidal, easily manipulated youths.” Perhaps some of them can be brought back from that dark path.

This latest effort by the French government to deter terrorism may go more smoothly than the last try, a controversial constitutional amendment stripping French nationality from dual-citizens convicted of terrorism. While both sides of the political spectrum agreed it was largely symbolic and would have little practical effect in combating terrorism, the proposal nevertheless caused a months-long storm of outrage. As Blouin News covered, the left-leaning French Justice minister resigned over the amendment, leaving hardliner right-wing Manuel Valls with more influence. The proposal was ultimately scrapped in March, but France’s struggle with homegrown radical Islam is far from settled.