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Paris launches new battle against French jihadists

Joshua Melvin · 23 Apr 2014, 11:06

Published: 23 Apr 2014 11:06 GMT+02:00

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The anti-radicalization plan presented by Interior Minister Bernard Cazeneuve seeks to thwart online recruitment efforts and make it harder for would-be fighters, especially the youngest ones, to get out of France. Additionally France wants to work the families left shattered by their loves ones' departures.

"The emergence of a new generation of seasoned terrorists likely to strike on French territory, demands a fixed, firm and effective response from the state. An entirely repressive response is not enough to stem the phenomenon. Preventive actions to counteract the "preachers of hate" will also be implemented," Cazeneuve said while announcing the plan at a cabinet meeting on Wednesday. 

A day before the announcement, Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius told RTL radio that nearly 500 French citizens or residents are believed to have joined the fighting, almost double the number estimated back in January.

Though an expert told The Local he was skeptical of the minister's claim and added the measures are likely a political move ahead of European elections.  

One of the key provisions of the plan is allowing parents to tip off authorities if they believe their child has been radicalized. That would then prompt a travel ban that would stop underage would-be fighters at the French border. Young would be jihadists could also see their passports confiscated.

Interior Minister Cazeneuve told French daily Le Parisien the same restrictions could be applied to adults, though that would require a change to French law.

Authorities have also deemed it crucial to hunt jihad recruiters online the same way they currently battle traffickers of child pornography. Cazeneuve envisions specialist online investigators who would monitor jihadist chat forums as well as working undercover to infiltrate the recruitment efforts.

Online recruitment of young fighters came to the forefront in January, when two high school boys radicalized via online contacts ran off to Syria to join the fighting. They have since been brought back to France and face charges of conspiring with a terrorism enterprise.

The surveillance measures would have some teeth, with foreigners seeking to recruit jihadists facing expulsion from France and groups found to be on the hunt for new converts to the cause could also have their assets frozen.

Finally the new plan calls for a hotline and website for families who have relatives who left for Syria. The idea is to work closely with families and help bring radicalized relatives back to France and reintegrate them into society.

However, the announcement of the plan comes just weeks before the European Parliament elections and some experts believe the timing is purely political.

"The number of fighters hasn't really increased in recent weeks, though the number of fighters willing to go has. Besides this plan been in the works for months," Toulouse University Professor of Islamic studies, Mathieu Guidere told The Local on Wednesday.

He added: "I’m sure it’s for political reasons, to act against the National Front in the run up to European elections. And given the mostly bureaucratic nature of the measures here, I believe its going to be very complicated and very difficult to put into place." 

President François Hollande’s Socialist government took a drubbing in the local elections in March, which saw the saw the anti-immigration, anti-EU, National Front capture a record number of local council seats and mayorships.

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Hollande’s reshuffled government is now fighting desperately to hold to voters who been left anger and apathetic by scandals and the leadership’s inability to turn around the economy.   

Guidere also sees a score of potential problems with keeping police files on young men who have not been convicted of anything.

"Can their names ever be removed from these files one day? It's very, very serious to be tied to terrorism," Guidere asked. "Let's say 10 years from now one of these young men goes to the United States and learns France has shared his file with Europe and the US. And he learns he can't get into the United States because his name is on a list."

Joshua Melvin (joshua.melvin@thelocal.com)

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