Inside French Prisons, A Struggle to Combat Radicalization

With 2,500 inmates, the penitentiary institution of Fresnes, about 20 miles south of Paris, is one of the largest prisons in Europe. Like most French prisons, Fresnes is overcrowded. Built in the late 19th century, its tiny cells, each meant for one prisoner, most often house three.

Inmates scream curses and catcalls from their barred windows as I visit a small, empty sports yard ensconced between cell blocks. Plastic bags and punctured soccer balls are caught in the surrounding concertina wire.

The prisoners here yelled out in just this way back in November 2015, refusing to honor a minute of silence for the victims of the terrorist attacks on Paris cafes and the Bataclan concert hall.

Fresnes prison director Philippe Obligis says he began to see a radicalization problem here well before those attacks took place.

“There were some radical Muslims who were putting huge pressure on regular Muslims to adopt a certain kind of behavior,” he says. “Like taking a shower with their clothes on and not listening to music or watching TV.”

In 2014, Fresnes became the first French prison to separate radicalized inmates from the general prison population — they were put in an entirely separate wing, one person to each cell, and had different guards from the other prisoners.

After 2015, which began with the January attacks at the satirical magazine Charlie Hebdo and a Kosher supermarket, and ended with the Bataclan attack in November, some other French prisons began separating inmates too. Several of the terrorists who killed nearly 150 people that year were common criminals who had become radicalized in prison.

In 2016, the French government put money into a rehabilitation program for radicals deemed not too far gone. The prisoners in these new anti-radicalization units received visits from psychologists and historians; they had the chance to attend some workshops or receive some training.

The radical units were controversial, especially after two guards at one prison were attacked in September of last year. In November, the French interior minister announced an end to the program.

Instead, the French government boosted security around the most dangerous prisoners — both radicals and not. And intelligence collecting in prisons was beefed up. A bureau of central intelligence for prisons was created earlier this year.

Around 350 French prisoners are serving jail terms for terrorist-related offenses. And a further 1,340 inmates convicted of regular crimes are identified as radicalized.

Businessman Pierre Botton went to jail for white collar crime in the 1990s and founded Together Against Recidivism, an organization devoted to improving the lives of prisoners. He says it’s nearly impossible to think about reforming in jail because prisoners are mainly just struggling to survive.

He believes radicals should be separated in different prisons entirely, because otherwise, they’ll inevitably interact with the rest of the prison population. He notes what happened when the only surviving terrorist from the Paris Bataclan attacks landed in a French jail last year.

“When Salah Abdeslam arrived, they clapped,” says Botton. “Do you understand what I’m saying? When he arrived in the jail, they clapped. They applauded.”

Botton says criminals like Abdeslam are icons in jails in the Paris region, where up to 70 percent of inmates identify as Muslim. Keeping records on the religion and ethnicity of French citizens is illegal, so there are no official statistics. But Botton says about 70 percent of prisoners in the Paris region observe the Muslim festival of Ramadan.

“So when you put guys like this who represent a certain ideology in the heart of a prison, surrounded by 4,000 inmates, there’s a huge risk they’ll contaminate the others,” he says.

Yannis Warrach, a Muslim cleric who works in his spare time at a top-security prison in Normandy, says prison is so brutal, inmates can only survive if they’re part of a gang. He has seen how the radicals recruit newcomers.

Imam Yannis Warrach helps prisoners resist radicalization at a top-security prison in Normandy. He says radicals recruit newcomers by “brainwash[ing]” them “little by little.”

“The ones who preach and proselytize will at first be nice to a detainee. They see his desperation,” he says. “They’ll befriend him, give him what he needs. Then they’ll say it’s destiny. They’ll say that God has a mission for him. And little by little, they brainwash him, telling him French society has rejected him, he can’t get a job because of his Arab last name, and he was always put in the worst classes at school.

“The problem is,” says Warrach, “it’s often true.”

Warrach says these young men must have hope for a different future to break out of the spiral of failure. He says French leaders have failed to change the socioeconomic factors that keep many French people of Muslim descent on the bottom rungs of the ladder.

Another big problem, he says, is the prevalence of hard-line, Salafist reading material in jails — often French translations of Saudi, Wahhabist tracts that advocate literal, strict interpretation of religious doctrine.

“I work to debunk this stuff,” says Warrach. “I give inmates under pressure a historical context of the faith and another narrative of Islam.”

He says that because of the pressure from radicals, who consider him an agent of the French government, he has to meet secretly with inmates who desperately want his help. Instead of meeting in rooms designated for religious worship, which are open, they meet in special prison visiting rooms for inmates’ lawyers, where no one can observe them.

Because of its strict separation of religion and state, Warrach says France is the only country in Europe where being a prison cleric is not considered a profession. He says he only receives a small stipend, but that he can’t build a life around it — there are no retirement plans or other benefits. Because of this, there can’t be an imam at the prison every day, which creates a huge void, he says. And it leaves plenty of room for uninformed, extremist interpretations of Islam in French prisons.

Muslim chaplains in prison, “formidable” work lacking direction

“Formidable work, but not encouraged.” Thirty year-old Ammar Maireche is training in Nièvre to become an imam and chaplain and would like to work in France’s prisons to combat the problem of radicalization. However, the lack of available resources has severely limited his ability to achieve his goal. The European Institute of Human Sciences (IESH) hosts some 220 students, men and women, who come from all over Europe to learn Arabic and Islamic theology. Throughout the course of seven years, each year around a dozen of graduates become imams and among them several become chaplains.

“The chaplaincy has not been supported and people are discouraged because there are not enough people. There is the financial aspect (only the costs are reimbursed,) and the prison does not provide enough resources so that the imam can help where it is needed,” explained Maireche.

“Everyone knows it’s impossible to support yourself from only this work,” he said. Radicalization of certain prisoners is for him “a real problem,” of which responsibility is “shared” between the Muslim community, who must portray a peaceful Islam, the politicians who must create more jobs, and the media.”

Chérif Kouachi and Amedy Coulibaly, who launched terror attacks January 7 and 9 in Paris, were radicalized in prison. To combat this phenomenon, the government announced they would hire an additional 60 Muslim chaplains, and promised the creation of five “ living quarters” to isolate radicalized detainees.

There are several problems involved in ameliorating the problem. The Institute’s director Zuhair Mahmood stated: “we can only produce five to ten imams each year, we can’t do more.” As well as the fact that “a chaplain must be better formed than an imam because prison, it’s the hardest area, it’s where there is the most need for pacification.”

The days at the school consist of both classes and daily prayer. Some women wear the veil, and several men are dressed in traditional garb. Jean-Jacques Pierre-Joseph, a 42-year-old convert who is an administrator at IESH and a prison chaplain, deplores the job’s “crisis of direction,” due in particular to its volunteer nature and the lack of personnel. In France, 182 Muslim chaplains are available for more than 200 prisons.

In prison, the chaplain plays “a theological role, but also has a social dominance as well, an ear for listening like a psychologist,” said Pierre-Joseph. Because “among the roots of radicalization, there are underlying elements such as instruction, the economy, frustrations and stigmatizations. Radicalization, it’s more about taking a position against the system, more than conveying religious ideas.”

Faced with this, “there shouldn’t be fear of confrontation, we must promote dialogue. We must work hard and sometimes ask anger-provoking questions in order to regulate them,” he said.

However Pierre-Joseph remains “completely opposed” to the prison living quarters dedicated, which would be even more of a “stigmatization,” for Muslims. “We can’t say that we want to reinsert these people into society while putting them at the margins,” he argued.

Following a visit to the United Nations on February 10, Minister of Justice Christiane Taubira, believed that prison was “one of the breeding-grounds” of extremism but “not the principal site of radicalization,” stating that only sixteen percent of people charged with terrorism had a criminal background.

Criticisms of Immigrants, Islam, the EU and Minister Kyenge in Italy

October 28, 2013

 

“We are not moderates” says Giorgia Meloni, but he did not need to specify this. You can tell immediately when Marina Ruffoni, part of the Venetian Brothers of Italy, begins by quoting Ezra Pound: “What you love will not be stripped.” Manuel Negri, of the National Project, referenced Flavio Tosi from Northern League of yesteryear talking about “immigrants who add nothing invade our shores asking for only rights and no contribution.” He continues: “Immigrants are not a resource because they work illegally or they do not work and engage in criminal acts, our jails are full of immigrants who should be transferred to prisons in their own countries.”

These are times in which the MEP Egyptian-born Magdi Cristiano Allam, a journalist who converted to Catholicism during the papacy of Pope Benedict XVI, and who has now left the church because it is “too relativist and open to Islam” says Negri. When discussing Pope Francis, Allam says he lauched his crusade in defense of “our civilization from immigration, doing good while the Islamic invasion continues and he [Pope Francis] naively favors the proliferation of mosques and places of indoctrination–so that there is no Islamic terrorist who has not attended a mosque [in Italy].” And amongst the ovation of those present, he concludes: “We should be proud of our Judeo-Christian roots, we will not allow Italy to become a land of African conquest.”

This position did not disappoint the lawyer and former Minister of Defense Ignazio La Russa, defying logic, and claiming a determined opposition to every kind of technical government, and then questions why Cécile Kyenge has been appointed health minister. And, emphasizing Kyenge’s opposition to the abolition of the crime of illegal immigration, La Russa says: “They made a Minister of Integration [who is not Italian], that person would be better as a person of Italian origin if nothing else because of the color of his skin.”

 

L’Arena.it: http://www.larena.it/stories/Cronaca/581862_critiche_agli_immigrati_allislam_alla_ue_e_al_ministro_kyenge/?refresh_ce&scroll=1710

Bible College Helps Some at Louisiana Prison Find Peace

ANGOLA, La. — Like most of his fellow inmates, Daryl Walters, 45, can expect to spend the rest of his days in the infamous prison on a former slave plantation here. Yet there he was on a recent evening, preaching the Gospel to 200 men in a spired church in the heart of the Louisiana State Penitentiary, talking salvation and joy to murderers and rapists and robbers who waved their arms to an inmate band’s Christian worship music.

Mr. Walters is a graduate of one of the most unusual prison programs in the country: a Southern Baptist Bible college inside this sprawling facility, offering bachelor’s degrees in a rigorous four-year course that includes study of Greek and Hebrew as well as techniques for “sidewalk ministry” that inmates can practice in their dorms and meal lines.

There are 241 graduates so far, nearly all lifers who live and work among their peers. Dozens of graduates have even moved as missionaries to counsel or preach in other prisons.

Beyond the bachelor’s degrees, the college has granted hundreds more certificates or associate degrees, producing a cadre of men who lead churches, provide informal counseling in their dorms and take on what many describe as their hardest task — informing fellow inmates when a loved one on the outside has died.

The graduates include 15 Muslims, who took the same Bible-based courses but minister to the 250 Islamic inmates.

Some 2,500 inmates attend church regularly, according to Cathy Fontenot, assistant warden — mostly Protestant or Roman Catholic but also Muslim, Jewish and Mormon services. The prison population is 75 percent black, with a small number of Latinos.

The prison college has received growing outside attention. A similar collaboration with a Southern Baptist seminary has started in Texas, where inmates with sentences of at least 10 years are eligible. In-prison Bible colleges have also been started or are under discussion in California, Georgia, Illinois, Mississippi and other states.

The American Civil Liberties Union has watched for signs that the seminary or the prison has crossed constitutional lines by using state money or coercion to promote religion. In the past, the group has sued Angola to force the removal of a biblical citation at the entrance and to give a Muslim graduate of the seminary access to materials from the Nation of Islam, the American Muslim group that is more entrenched in northern prisons.

Still, the seminary appears to be legal because it is paid for privately, is voluntary and admits non-Christians, said Marjorie R. Esman, the executive director of the A.C.L.U. in Louisiana.

Al Qaeda launches a new magazine that contains several references to Spain.

22 July 2013

 

Security forces have detected the launch of a new  Jihadist magazine that since weeks circulates in radical Internet forums. Its name is AZAN, and it is published by a group known as ‘Mujahideen in Khorasan’ akin to Al Qaeda.  Its first issue has several references to Spain and contains also an article of the Spanish-born radical activist Mustafa Setmarian, as reported by the counterterrorism forces. These same sources have stated that Spain is referenced in several articles as ‘Al-Andalus’. One of them is about the reconquest of the Spanish territory which is particularly symbolic to jihadist ideology because it evokes one of the periods of greatest splendor of Islam. In any case, the experts in the analysis of these documents consider that at the moment thery are only theoretical references and doctrine. Another aspect that has attracted the attention of the security forces is the signature of one of the writers, Abu Musad Al Suri, aka Mustafa Setmarian. He is one of the leaders of Al Qaeda and one of the main theorists of the jihadist movement. He is one of the greatest promoters of the individual terrorist figure, better known as ‘lone wolves’, which represents a major security concerns among Western countries. The researchers placed him as ‘Number Four’ in the leadership of Al Qaeda; he is married with a Spanish woman and he has Spanish passport. He was arrested in Pakistan in 2005 and handed over to U.S. authorities, who had a reward prize of $ 5 million for his capture. After supposedly being held for several years in secret prisons, is believed to have been delivered into Syria.

45% of Belgium’s inmates are Muslim

Sud Info

Around 5000 of Belgium’s prison population, 45% of the overall number of inmates in the country, are of Muslim faith. This has, as previously reported, caused a number of issues in regards to prison dietary rules, female guard presence, prayer rooms. The national umbrella organization of the Belgium Muslims (Executif des Musulmans de Belgique) has called upon the state to provide facilities to practice and manage the faith in prisons in order to protect it from being taken over by radical sections.

Islamic radicalism in Belgian cities

La Libre

09.03.2013

Following the discovery of some 70 Belgian Muslims to have departed to fight alongside the Syrian rebels, an editorial published by the Belgian newspaper La Libre brings the question of Islamic radicalism in Europe to the forefront. Lamfaluss focuses upon the Belgian urban space as a futile soil for the radicalisation of Muslims but emphasis that only a small number are affected by such influences

According to him, those who are prone to become radicals willing to take upon arms and fight elsewhere are members of Salafist networks who infiltrate mosques and prisons and belong to a generation of people who are neither home in Belgium nor their country of descent, or that of their parents.

Observers call on CSIS to better reintegrate terrorists in Canadian prisons

News agencies – January 4, 2013

 

When Public Safety Minister Vic Toews announced the return to Canada of Omar Khadr in September 2012, he said he was confident that the convicted war criminal would receive “appropriate programming” in prison to ensure his safe re-integration into society. Yet, when Postmedia News submitted an access-to-information request for any records that relate to how the Correctional Service of Canada manages convicted terrorists and extremists, it was told that no such records exist. Observers say the government ought to have developed some kind of strategy by now for rehabilitating these unique inmates, given the earlier convictions in the “Toronto 18” terror case and the conviction of Ottawa terrorist Momin Khawaja.

“It is reasonable to expect that some thought should have gone into this,” said Jez Littlewood, director of the Canadian Centre of Intelligence and Security Studies at Carleton University. “Aside from Khadr, the 11 convictions in the TO-18 case and the Khawaja case, should have initiated some discussion or paperwork.”

In recent years, the correctional service’s own annual reports have highlighted the need to address this apparent gap in prison programming. Canada’s spy service, CSIS, has raised concerns about the spread of extremist views within the prison system, noting in a 2012 threat assessment that “studies have identified that Islamist extremists have been further radicalized in prisons in countries such as Canada.”

 

Judge adjourns weeklong hearing in Sept. 11 case at Guantanamo without ruling on major issues

GUANTANAMO BAY NAVAL BASE, Cuba — A weeklong hearing into the legal framework for the Sept. 11 terrorism military tribunal came to an end Friday without a ruling on the most significant motions but progress on some issues that must be resolved before the eventual trial.

After hours of often arcane debate at the U.S. base in Cuba, the military judge presiding over the case deferred most decisions until later. Notable among them were proposed rules for handling classified evidence that prosecutors said are necessary to protect national security and defense lawyers argued are overly broad and restrictive.

Army Col. James Pohl heard arguments on nearly 20 motions and did resolve some matters, including issuing a ruling that the five men charged with planning and aiding the Sept. 11 attacks may sit out their pretrial hearings. While the extent of the progress was in dispute, both the chief prosecutor and defense lawyers agreed the case was unlikely to be ready for trial in 2013.

The five defendants facing charges that include terrorism and murder include Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, a self-styled terrorist mastermind who grew up in Kuwait and attended college in North Carolina. He condemned the U.S. in a lecture to the court on Wednesday as he wore a camouflage vest that had been approved by the judge.

The judge heard lengthy arguments on a motion from the defense asking the judge to decide that the constitutional rights recognized in civilian criminal trials will apply in the special tribunals for war-time offenses. Prosecutors argued it was too soon to make that determination and the judge deferred a ruling.

Most of the arguments centered on the proposed security rules, including provisions that the defense said will prevent the five prisoners from publicly disclosing what happened to them while detained in secret CIA prisons overseas. The U.S. government says they were subjected to “enhanced interrogation”; critics say it was torture.

Lawyers for the defendants said the proposed rules would prevent them from using what happened in the CIA prisons to challenge statements the men made to authorities or to argue that they shouldn’t get the death penalty. It would also prevent the public from learning details about the harsh interrogations.

Imams and other non-Christian chaplains terminated in Canadian jails

News Agencies – October 5, 2012

 

The Canadian federal government has decided to end its contracts nationwide with minority-faith chaplains who had been working part-time in the country’s federal prisons.

Full-time chaplains who remain will be expected to provide spiritual guidance to inmates of all faiths. Finance minister Vic Toews ordered a stop to the tendering of new contracts last month after he announced that he was “not convinced” all chaplaincy services were an appropriate use of taxpayer money.

 

The email cited a memo from Don Head, commissioner of the correctional service, who said the government had decided to move exclusively to a “full-time chaplaincy model with continued reliance on the voluntary support of our community partners.” Renewal options for all part-time contracts “will not be exercised.”

 

According to corrections data, in the last fiscal year, 36 per cent of inmates identified themselves as Catholic, 18 per cent as Protestant, five per cent as Muslim, four per cent as native spiritual, two per cent as Buddhist, one per cent as Jewish and one per cent as Sikh. Twenty percent said they were non-religious, seven per cent said they belonged to “other” religious groups, and six per cent answered “unknown.”