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Prisons to blame for extremist indoctrination?


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“We cannot allow our prisons to become seed-beds for the indoctrination of ideologies of hate and terrorism,” the French president said, demanding a “thorough reflection” on measures to control the threat. – Photo by AFP
“We cannot allow our prisons to become seed-beds for the indoctrination of ideologies of hate and terrorism,” the French president said, demanding a “thorough reflection” on measures to control the threat. – Photo by AFP

PARIS: An extremist’s killing spree has turned the spotlight on the risk of extremist Islamic indoctrination in prisons, but France’s intelligence chief said Mohamed Merah had learned his radicalism alone.

President Nicolas Sarkozy announced in the immediate aftermath of 23-year-old Merah’s attacks and violent end, that France would take measures to stamp-out extremist proselytising in prisons.

“We cannot allow our prisons to become seed-beds for the indoctrination of ideologies of hate and terrorism,” the president said, demanding a “thorough reflection” on measures to control the threat.

But most experts who spoke on Friday said the young man had taken time in prison to radicalise himself, rather than falling victim to recruiters.

Christian Etelin, a lawyer who represented the self-declared al-Qaeda follower during his earlier teenage career as a petty criminal, said after he was killed in a shoot-out with police that he had become radicalised in jail.

Merah, now 23, was jailed at 19 for a series of thefts and violent crimes and spent two years in jail. After his release he headed to Afghanistan and Pakistan where he claims to have received training from al-Qaeda.

“It was during his time in prison that he began to radicalise himself,” prosecutor Francois Molins told reporters this week.

And the head of France’s DCRI domestic intelligence agency, Bernard Squarcini told the daily Le Monde: “According to statements he made during the siege, he self-radicalised in prison, on his own.”

While most experts accept that violent extremist groups do recruit in jails, they said a very small proportion of the young men of Muslim background exposed to extremist propaganda end up joining jihadist groups.

“Very few really fall into this,” said Louis Caprioli, a former senior interior ministry official charged with anti-terror and counter-espionage.

“Most of these young guys, when they come out of jail, want to go out with girls, steal BMWs and Mercedes, sell heroin for money,” he said. “They go back to the sensual pleasures of their former lives.

“Only the fringe of the fringe, like Mohamed Merah, follow the logic through to its conclusion,” he argued.

While lawyer Dominique Many said that Muslims who had travelled to Pakistan or Afghanistan were admired in prison as “resistance fighters”, other experts played down their long-term influence on less hardened recruits.

Farhad Khosrokhavar, director the EHESS social sciences school, said another strand of Islamic thought, “hyper fundamentalism”, was growing in prisons.

Adherents to this ideal close in on themselves and dedicate much time to Islamic studies and prayer, but are not generally violent.

In September 2008, the French interior ministry estimated that only “just over 100” detainees among a national prison population of 63,000 inmates were undergoing a process of radicalisation.

French authorities do not keep records of a citizen’s religious leanings but, based on the number of prisoners who refuse to eat pork, estimate the proportion of Muslim detainees at between 30 and 40 per cent.

Celine Verzeletti of the CGT union, which represents prison officers, said:

“A few years ago we warned of the need for vigilance, but I have the impression that radicalisation is less common today.”

Verzeletti said more “Muslim chaplains” were being allowed to work in jails, helping prisoners who want to live a mainstream religious life.”

“Where there’s a chaplain, there’s no ‘self-declared imam’,” explained Moulay El Hassan El Alaoui Talibi, head of the Muslim chaplains in French jails.

“The chaplain is the benchmark. If there’s none, there’s a risk.”The number of Muslim clerics working in jails has tripled since 2006 to around 150, he said.

Abdelhak Eddouk, who works with Muslim prisoners in Fleury-Merogis jail outside Paris, agreed, explaining that chaplains can quickly respond to and defuse through argument the development of dangerous ideas.

Comments (3) Closed

Mubashir Mar 23, 2012 08:06pm
Please remind all Muslims that no amount of injustice done to Muslims anywhere in the world can every justify the taking of innocent human life. The world is a testing ground for Muslims. To see how they behave under stress. Their way or Allah's Way Mubashir
FMan Mar 24, 2012 10:12am
Whenever the Americans or West, wishes to carry out "damage control", they call up their mass medias - in particular CNN, BBC and Al Jazeera - to do their bidding. Note how suddenly these mass medias focus on Amnesty International's complaints against Sri Lanka's "regime's" human rights violations against the Tamils to divert attention away from Washington's usual loss of control over its psychopathic soldiers. See how they try to lie to cover up the extent of their atrocities; How their soldiers had been constantly brainwashed by their mass medias to hate the Muslims or anyone who is not America, Anglo-Saxon, or European. When I see its mass medias trying to divert attention and trying to promote American and Western image, I ask myself - Where the heck is Amnesty International on the war crimes perpetrated by the U.S. and others, in Iraq, Vietnam, Laos, Malaya, Philippines, Korea, Japan, South America, etc..? Where are the individual documented cases similar to My Lai, Batang Kali, Fallujah, Okinawa, Pakistan borderpost, drone attacks on civilians, etc ..? Why are proceedings not made to charge the U.S. for war crimes for the combined millions of Vietnamese, Laotians, Cambodians, Iraqi, Afghans, Pakistanis, and other civilians, massacred? Why have so many individual cases been swept under the carpet? Amesty International is very brave taking the Sri Lankan government to task and threatening indicting it for war crimes but has no cases against the U.S., Britain, and France? Why so selective? And why does the American/West controlled mass medias selective and so conveniently omit, suppress, or black out these massacre and genocide cases? The biggest abettor of the U.S.'s crimes in particular, are its mass medias - Fox News, CBS, CNN, NBC, BBC, and now Al Jazeera. They control the news - what is broadcasted and what is not, and how, and when. Image negative news of the U.S. are censored, good news exaggerated, news on declared enemies twisted and amplified to give a bad negative image, good news on them censored or blacked out, and so forth. Indeed, the word is controlled by the Anglo-U.S.-Qatar global news channel. So, how can you trust the U.S. - its government and people again? Their lying and manipulative ways really drags our global civilization to its pits.
Falcon Mar 24, 2012 11:31am
Very good idea. We need to have scholars, imams, and chaplains who can quickly identify and defuse risks of radicalization where visible. I think as a whole situation is much better today than was a decade ago.