by Milena Uhlmann
Terrorism isn’t new to the country; in its history, France has experienced a significant number of attacks. In 1995, the GIA-affiliated terrorist network of which Khaled Kelkal was part conducted several attacks, as did the Al Qaida-affiliated gang de Roubaix one year later; but until Mohammed Merah’s murders in 2012 in Toulouse and Montauban, terrorist attacks were treated as political violence in the context of anti-colonial struggles or connected to other kinds of violent conflicts abroad, such as the Bosnian War, rather than as religiously inspired or connected to social, societal and/or political issues within the country, or as some sort of atypical pathology.
Terrorist perpetrators, their networks and milieus were met with repressive instruments – a wider angle of analysis which would have allowed to tackle the threat from a more holistic perspective had not been incorporated in a counter-terrorism policy design.
FIRST STEPS – THE “ACTION PLAN AGAINST TERRORIST NETWORKS AND VIOLENT RADICALIZATION“ (2014) AND THE FIRST STRUCTURED EFFORT TO PROVIDE STATE ASSISTANCE IN THE CONTEXT OF RADICALIZATION.
With some vague kind of sense of urgency developing after an increasing number of young French men and some women started to leave for Syria to join jihadist groups there in 2012/13, the French government put together the “Plan de lutte contre les filières terroristes et la radicalisation violente“ (Action Plan against Terrorist Networks and Violent Radicalization), comprised of 22 measures. This plan dating from April 2014 put priorities on impeding travel to Syria, preventing online jihadist propaganda, the hesitant start of diffusion of so called „counter narratives“, strengthening judicial instruments against jihadist networks and implementing prevention and reintegration strategies.In April the same year, the government created a national hotline (“numéro vert“) as part of a new structure called „Centre national d’assistance et de prévention de la radicalisation“ (National Assistance and Radicalization Prevention Center, CNAPR). Persons believed to be wanting to leave to the region, or to have radicalized / be on the path to radicalization, can since be reported to the CNAPR. The calls are taken by police officers from the “Unité de coordination de la lutte antiterroriste” (Coordination Unit for the Fight Against Terrorism, UCLAT), who are assisted by a psychologist. It receives on average between 60 and 80 calls every day. From the end of April 2014 until end of September 2016, 12.265 alerts had been processed either by the CNAPR or the Security Staff in the prefectures (4.015 of them had been signaled until March 2015, 8.250 until January 2016). In total, 15.000 persons have been signaled through UCLAT, the prefectures or different intelligence services; 80 percent of them are adults, 70 percent of those are males, whilst females make up for the biggest part of the minors. 36 percent are converts. Seven percent of those signaled left to the SYRAQ region, and 20 per cent of them died there. Of the total number of persons, UCLAT is monitoring about 2.000 which are deemed potentially dangerous.
The information gathered and analyzed is forwarded to the prefecture responsible for the region the signaled person lives in as well as to the internal intelligence service (Direction Générale de la Sécurité Intérieure, DGSI). The prefect then notifies the relevant public prosecutor. If the reported case concerns a minor, the prosecutor can then strive for the implementation of educational assistance measures with regard to the family concerned. With the prosecutor’s consent, the prefect also notifies the mayor of the municipality the person concerned lives in. In conjunction with the prosecutor, the prefect orders stings the relevant local follow-up unit into action, which each département (county) was ordered to create in February 2015. Critics argue that this system relies too heavily on state and security services, which is partially keeping people from calling the hotline and working together with the units.
These units consist of state institutions (such as the police, the justice sector and the employment agency), regional and local authorities (such as social services) and local associative networks. Through these different actors, the units are meant to aim at providing tailored measures to assist the families of the individual in question as well as the individual him/herself. A social worker is supposed to be assigned to each case to keep track of the process. Whilst the prefect initiates this action, the role of the mayor is to assure comprehensive and coherent action taking into account the individual situation of the individual in question. Local and intercommunal councils on security and crime prevention (Conseils locaux et intercommunaux de sécurité et de prévention de la délinquance, CLISPD) should be implicated as well. Via the CLISPD, the prefect can entrust a deputy prefect with the mission to take up preventive measures and to create fallow-up units in the counties.
Apart from the fact that CLISPD are only created for municipalities with a population of more than 10.000 inhabitants and consequently this instrument cannot be used in certain rural areas, other structural problems persist: the division of tasks is not always clear, and the phenomenon of radicalization is complex. There is thus some confusion about who can or should do what, and those who find themselves confronted with the phenomenon all too often lack specific knowledge and expertise, as has amongst others been pointed out to by the Association of the Mayors of France (Association des maires de France, AMF).
Furthermore, it is proving difficult to find trained specialists who are capable of working with radicalized persons, and some families are not willing to cooperate with the follow-up unit designed for changing the path of one of their kin. This is stated by the Inter-ministerial Guide for Prevention of Radicalization dating from March 2016, provided by the Inter-ministerial Committee for Prevention of Crime and Radicalization (Comité interministériel de prévention de la délinquance et la radicalisation, CIPDR), the institution in charge of the non-repressive pillar of the French prevention efforts which is also responsible for the monitoring and quality assurance of the work of the follow-up units. In its report to the parliament for the year 2015, the CIPDR is stating that the follow-up units are not being handled coherently, with confusion over the the roles of the different partners, affecting the efficiency of the work of the units.
This is aggravated by the large and steadily growing number of those being followed-up upon with the goal of disengaging them from violence, posing a problem to proper monitoring in general: by 13th October 2016, 2.240 persons had been directed into programs monitored by local units, as well as 972 families (1.600 persons / 800 families in May 2016). Furthermore, a large number of the individuals concerned are at the same time being followed-up upon by the police, implying a heightened level of radicalization of these individuals.
THE FIRST NON-STATE PARTNER OF THE GOVERNMENT IN THE FIGHT AGAINST RADICALIZATION – THE “CENTER FOR THE PREVENTION OF SECTARIAN ABERRATIONS LINKED TO ISLAM“ (CPDSI)
The first actor that had been commissioned with the work of disengagement simultaneously to the creation of the national hotline in April 2014 was the Center for the Prevention of Sectarian Aberrations Linked to Islam (Centre de prévention des dérives sectaires liées à l’Islam, CPDSI). … …
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Milena Uhlmann is Associate Fellow at the International Centre for the Study of Radicalisation and Political Violence (ICSR) in London and the author of various publications on conversion to Islam in Western Europe, radicalization processes and deradicalization approaches. (Latest publication: “Radicalisation et déradicalisation”, co-authored chapter with Asiem El Difraoui in his recent book “Le djihadisme”, Presses Universitaires de France, 2016) Since the Charlie Hebdo and Hyper Cacher attacks until after the Paris attacks of November 13, 2015, she has mainly worked in France on issues related to these phenomena. The views expressed are solely those of the author.