France unveils counter-terror plan in battle against jihadism

Initiative adds weight to existing policy on deradicalisation centres in country’s regions

French prime minister Manuel Valls: Spoke of the necessity of “preparing the population for a threat which, let there be no doubt, will strike again”. Photograph: Philippe Wojazer/Reuters

French prime minister Manuel Valls: Spoke of the necessity of “preparing the population for a threat which, let there be no doubt, will strike again”. Photograph: Philippe Wojazer/Reuters

 

“The struggle against jihadism is the great challenge of our generation,” French prime minister Manuel Valls said on Monday when he presented the government’s “plan of action against radicalisation and terrorism” or Part. It was a “strategic document, like a White Paper”, he said.

The plan adds 50 new measures to 22 adopted in April 2014, and eight announced in the wake of jihadist attacks last year.

It includes the creation of “centres of citizenship and reintegration”, or deradicalisation centres, in each of France’s 13 regions. The first centre will open at Beaumont- en-Véron, central France, this summer.

The first inmates are likely to be reformed jihadists “whose sincerity and long- term will to reintegrate we will test”, Mr Valls said.

Officials fear a “Nimby” reaction from communities asked to host the centres.

The plan includes stiffer prison sentences, with the punishment for “associating with terrorists” rising from 10 to 20 years, and the minimum period of detention for a convicted terrorist rising from 22 to 30 years.

A new law would introduce life sentences with no possibility of parole.

The DGSI intelligence service has transferred the names of 500 people suspected of involvement in “terrorist networks” to the social welfare administration, with the intention of suspending their benefits, Mr Valls said.

Permanent screening

Schools, especially private and home schools, sports clubs and the internet will all be placed under closer surveillance. The French government will develop “mechanisms to regulate the internet” and conduct “cyberpatrols” to detect and censor jihadist propaganda. 

French authorities want to break the “algorithm trap” that directs browsers who have consulted a jihadist site to many more such sites.

Mr Valls’s speech, and the 68-page explanation given to journalists, outline the scale of the problem and the amount of resources devoted to it.

The number of foreign jihadists in Syria peaked at 15,000 last year, Mr Valls said. More than half are from the Middle East and north Africa. Four thousand are Russian- speakers from the Caucasus or central Asia.

Mr Valls said 5,000 jihadists have gone from Europe to Syria, including 627 French people, the largest European contingent. An additional 171 French people are presumed dead in Syria; 244 have returned to France; while 216 others left for Syria, but are not certain to have arrived there. 

Telephone hotline

The DGSI has reported three failed jihadist attacks since 2013. Fifteen more were foiled by security services. “Of these 15, six were planned by individuals returning from the Iraqi-Syrian zone,” Mr Valls said.

By 2017, President François Hollande’s administration will have created 15,300 new security positions.

Some 1,600 radicalised youths and 800 families are being “accompanied” by “follow-up cells”, Mr Valls said. He is increasing the “inter-ministerial fund for the prevention of delinquency” to €100 million, to double the number who can be “accompanied”.

Monday’s presentation was meant to reassure the French people. But it seemed to bog down in acronyms and bureaucratic structures, and left some questions hanging. 

For example, Mr Valls promised to “fight radicalisation by building powerful counter rhetoric”. One couldn’t help wondering where the “powerful counter-rhetoric” was, 16 months after the Charlie Hebdo attacks.

Mr Valls also spoke of the necessity of “preparing the population for a threat which, let there be no doubt, will strike again”.