Why the upcoming release of 40 radicalized inmates presents ‘a major risk’ to France

The 40 radicalized prisoners who are preparing to leave French prisons over the next 18 months after serving their sentences are "a major risk", France's leading counter-terrorism prosecutor has warned.

Why the upcoming release of 40 radicalized inmates presents 'a major risk' to France
Photo: AFP
France is already on high alert for terrorism but the security threat is likely to only increase in the coming years, according to France's leading counter-terrorist prosecutor Francois Molins.
Authorities are getting ready to release about 20 radicalised prisoners in 2018 and a further 20 in 2019, Molins said in an interview with BFM TV.
And police, intelligence services and authorities need to take action, he said.
“There is a major risk of seeing people who are not at all repentant at the end of their sentence come out of prison, who could even be more radical given their stay in prison,” he added.  
“We need to do a lot more talking to ensure that they are properly monitored which requires thorough work between the prison administration, the intelligence services, the prefectures, those working in the judicial system and the prosecutor's office,” he said. 
Currently, more than 1,200 people imprisoned for crimes unrelated to terrorism are considered to have become radicalized behind bars in France while more than 500 are in prison for terrorism, according to reports in the French press.
While some of those in jail for terror offences are serving lengthy sentences, some are due to be released over the coming years with the terror threat likely to remain high in France
“The penitentiary environment acts as an incubator to the extent that there is an interaction” between these two types of prisoners, noted Molins, who is set to leave his post in November after spending seven years at the head of the anti-terrorist prosecution service. 
Police seize arsenal of weapons in 168 raids
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'Fighting an ideological war'
French intelligence services are already struggling to keep tabs on the thousands of individuals on the country's terror watchlist – some of whom have gone on to commit terror attacks – and the release of known extremists from prison gives authorities more headaches.
A researcher at the Paris-based Institute of International and Strategic Relations, François-Bernard Huyghe told The Local that he believes Molins is right to describe the situation in such alarming terms, adding that there are several reasons for the gravity of the situation. 
“Radicalised people are being released soon because in order to keep them inside we would have had to charge them for something very serious,” he said. “On top of that, as we know, prisons are the best place to become radicalised – potential jihadis can meet 'heros' of the movement in jail.”
The second reason, he said, was that France is “very, very bad at deradicalising”.
“I have never met this magic person who has been deradicalised and turned into a good citizen,” he said. 
The final reason he gave was that while potential jihadists are increasingly struggling to find extremist information online, they are more likely to be able to meet people that have experienced life as a jihadi because there are now several generations of jihadist fighters who have seen action. 
“They can learn from the older guys,” he said. 
He went on to describe the additional problem that France can't compete with the promises offered by radical Islamist groups, which offer “these young guys from the suburbs a lot”.
“In their minds they're offering them the chance to fight bad guys, as well as apartments and material wealth,” he said, adding that meanwhile France can “only offer them the chance to get a normal job and vote in an election every few years”. 
Huyghe went on to describe the solution to the problem as a long-term one which needs to include teaching Republican values, not just talking about them. 
“We are beginning to admit that this is ideological warfare not just social,” he said. 
But he admitted that France is getting better at stopping attacks and that they have become less “technically successful”. 
France in struggle to confirm jihadists' deaths
Photo: AFP
Government plan to halt radicalisation
France has long-struggled with the issue of radicalisation in its prisons. 
In February, The Local reported that the French government had said it would seal off extremists within prisons and open new centres to reintegrate returning jihadists into society as part of a new plan to halt the spread of radical Islam.
France is experimenting with various ways of ending the drift towards extremism of young people growing up on the margins of society, in predominantly immigrant suburbs where organisations like the Islamic State group or Al-Qaeda recruit.
The plan aims to draw lessons from past failures, after three years marked by a series of attacks that left over 240 people dead.
“No one has a magic formula for 'deradicalisation' as if you might de-install dangerous software,” Prime Minister Edouard Philippe said in the northern city of Lille where he presented his strategy, flanked by a dozen ministers.
“But in France and elsewhere there are good approaches to prevention and disengagement.”
France is particularly keen to stop extremism flourishing in its prisons, where some of the jihadists behind attacks in recent years first came under the spell of hardliners.
A total of 512 people are currently serving time for terrorism offences in France and a further 1,139 prisoners have been flagged up as being radicalised.
To prevent extremism spreading further, Philippe said he would create 1,500 places in separate prison wings “especially for radicalised inmates”.

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Paris police attacker adhered to ‘radical strain of Islam’

A staffer at Paris police headquarters who stabbed four colleagues to death in a frenzied attack adhered to "a radical vision of Islam", an anti-terror prosecutor said Saturday, amid a gathering political storm over security safeguards.

Paris police attacker adhered to 'radical strain of Islam'

The 45-year-old computer expert had been in contact with members of Salafism, an ultra-conservative branch of Sunni Islam, and defended “atrocities committed in the name of that religion”, Jean-Francois Ricard told reporters. 

Three police officers and an administrative worker — three men and one woman — died in the lunchtime attack on Thursday at the police headquarters, a stone's throw from the Notre-Dame cathedral in the historic heart of Paris.

READ: Paris stabbings investigated as possible terrorist attack

The assailant, named as Mickael Harpon, was shot dead by a policeman, who was a trainee at the police headquarters.

The attack sent shock waves through an embattled French police force already complaining of low morale and has raised serious concerns over security procedures.

Harpon, born on the French overseas territory of Martinique in the Caribbean, converted to Islam about 10 years ago, the prosecutor said.

He had no police record but was investigated for domestic violence in 2009.

Sources said he had worked in a section of the police service dedicated to collecting information on jihadist radicalisation.

Harpon held a high-level “defence secrets” security clearance, which authorised him to handle sensitive information of national defence importance and would have subjected him to regular, stringent security checks.

'No nervousness'

On the morning of his “extremely violent” attack, Harpon bought two knives — a 33-centimetre long kitchen knife and an oyster knife — which he kept hidden, Ricard said.

He showed “absolutely no signs of nervousness” as he circled back to police headquarters, according to CCTV footage examined by police, the prosecutor said.

The attack, from his return to the office, the killings and his death by police bullets, lasted seven minutes, Ricard said.

He first killed a 50-year old police major and a 38-year old guard who worked in the same office as Harpon and were having lunch at their desks.

He then went to another office on the same floor where he killed a 37-year old administrative worker.

Having failed to enter another office, which was locked, he went down into the courtyard where he stabbed a 39-year old policewoman who later died of her wounds.

He then injured two other people, before the trainee policeman killed him with two shots.

Shortly before the attack he had exchanged 33 text messages with his wife.

The messages exclusively concerned religion, and the attacker ended the conversation with “Allahu Akbar” (“God is greatest”) and told her to “follow our beloved prophet Mohammed and meditate on the Koran”, according to the prosecutor.

She was being held by police on Saturday. Harpon, who supported the Charlie Hebdo attacks in 2015, had changed his attire in recent months, shunning “all Western clothes in favour of traditional garments to visit the mosque”, Ricard added.

He also wished to no longer “have certain kinds of contact with women”.

'Storm coming'

French President Emmanuel Macron, who has described the attack as a “veritable tragedy”, will lead tributes to the victims on Tuesday, the Elysee announced on Saturday.

Sources at the Paris prosecutor's office said on Friday the case had been passed to the anti-terrorist prosecutor's office (PNAT).

After Saturday's news conference by the anti-terror prosecutor, Interior Minister Christophe Castaner came under pressure from political opponents who demanded his resignation.

They also called for an inquiry into how Harpon could have failed to attract the attention of security services in the run up to the attack.

“It's going to be hard to explain how he kept below the radar” of anti-terror units, said one police source.

“There's a storm coming,” the source said.

Prime Minister Edouard Philippe meanwhile expressed his “full confidence” in Castaner. But in an interview with weekly JDD to be published Sunday, he also said that procedures for the detection of signs that anti-terror agents may themselves have been radicalised would be probed.

Paris's top policeman Didier Lallement said there was no reason to question security arrangements in police headquarters.

French police have been a recurring target of jihadist groups, such as Islamic State, behind a wave of attacks since 2015 — from large synchronised assaults to isolated knife and gun attacks.

In June, a parliamentary report on radicalisation within the public services spoke of 30 suspected cases out of the 150,000 police officers and 130,000 gendarmes in France.