French Deradicalization Plan: So Far, Not Working

On Friday September 16, four Muslim inmates were evacuated in haste from the Osny prison UPRA (unit for prevention of radicalization) and dispatched to other prisons to be placed in solitary confinement. Eavesdropping by prison authorities revealed that the four posed an immediate threat to personnel.

On September 4, Bilal Taghi, 24, another of the 18 Muslim inmates in the unit, had attacked two wardens with a 6-inch, home-made spike, wounding one of them in the neck, face and arms. He then traced a heart shape on the wall with his victim’s blood and began to pray.

When the prison security team arrived he lunged at them with the spike before he was stopped by a plastic bullet. An investigation revealed that the attack on the warden had been planned together with other inmates as an Islamic State-style execution.

Taghi had tried to go to Syria with his wife and child after the Charlie Hebdo attack in December 2015. He was arrested in Turkey following a road accident and returned to France, where he was jailed on terrorism conspiracy charges.

The 18 inmates at Osny prison had been deemed “accessible” and were undergoing a deradicalization program. Jérôme Nobécourt, a trade union official, described the deradicalization program as “smoke and mirrors.” Both Nobécourt’s union, known as the FO as well as the Ufap-Unsa union, are demanding the closure of the deradicalization unit at Osny and have called for a blockade of the entrance until their demands are met.

The deradicalization units, where inmates have individual cells, were announced with great fanfare by Prime Minister Manuel Valls after the January 2015 Islamic terrorist attacks in Paris. They focus on the background of each individual inmate and include discussion groups where contradictory opinions are “respected.”

Ouisa Kies, a sociologist in charge of the deradicalization program, made the following remarkable statement about Islamic radicals in an interview with the Communist Party newspaper L’Humanité:

“We have to understand why they are alienated and use violence against the society they grew up in. We tend to view them as monsters. They are dangerous because they take action, but they are not crazy.

“Jihadists have deeply-held political and religious convictions. We need to listen to those convictions in order to counter them. Some jihadists are ideologists with a rational theory for their struggle, like the left-wing militants of the 1970s. But there are also many young losers, who are fragile and find in the struggle a means to fulfil themselves.

“They have suffered years of social and family violence before becoming violent themselves and turning into delinquents. Media coverage of terrorist attacks creates vocations and incites them to act. The terrorist becomes a hero who has conquered the frustration felt by many young people.”

 

Ahmed El­Hoummass, a warden at Fresnes prison and regional secretary of the CGT prison workers’ local, warned at the time that putting radical Islamists together in dedicated units would create a dangerous and explosive situation.

In the case of the incidents so far at Osny prison, El­Hoummass was right and the sociologists were wrong.

 

Leslie Shaw is an Associate Professor at the Paris campus of ESCP Europe Business School and President of FIRM (Forum on Islamic Radicalism and Management).