PARIS - France’s leftist government says it will create deradicalization centers around the country, sinking $45 million into a barrage of new proposals to fight terrorism.
“Radicalization, recruitment strikes everywhere,” French Prime Minister Manuel Valls said as he unveiled the proposals during a ministerial conference, warning the country will likely face another strike.
“We’ve entered a new era of hyper-terrorism,” he said.
The measures are likely to resonate in neighboring Belgium, where a trial opened Monday of seven alleged jihadists accused of links with both the March attacks in Brussels and those in Paris last November that killed 130 people.
The government says it will earmark the additional $45 million between now and 2018 to pay for its new action plan that contains 80 measures, 50 of them new. It includes a series of initiatives to fight terrorism both at home and overseas, including ways to counter jihadist propaganda and detect signs of radicalization early on.
State of emergency
There are also plans to extend France’s state of emergency to cover the Euro 2016 football championship and the Tour de France in June and July.
Put in place after the November Paris attacks, the state of emergency allows authorities to conduct widespread searches and put people under house arrest whose behavior is “considered a threat to security and public order.”
Rights groups accuse authorities of abusing police powers and unfairly targeting dozens of innocent people, especially Muslims.
French authorities estimate more than 2,000 people are implicated in Syrian and Iraqi jihadi networks, while they have identified more than 9,000 as radicalized, most of them youngsters.
“The profiles are diverse, all social categories, all regions are affected,” said Valls, describing many women and Muslim converts among the mix. But he pointed to the “heavy reality” of radical Islam breeding in France’s gritty, immigrant-heavy suburbs.
High up on the government’s priority list are plans to create deradicalization centers in each French region by the end of 2017, with two up and running this year. France has been accused of lagging behind other European countries, notably Britain, in establishing deradicalization programs.
Valls also called for creating a broad “counter-discourse” to fight jihadist propaganda and recruiting, including reinforcing partnerships with Internet companies.
This summer, he added, France will begin acting on a new EU air passenger information sharing plan to track potential jihadists and other criminals, similar to the one already in place in the United States.
Other measures in the plan aim to reinforce surveillance, education and imam training programs in France, along with the war against terror and its financing overseas.
While imam language and civics training programs are important, the government's proposals aren't new, said Abdallah Zekri, secretary-general of the French Council on the Muslim Faith. "Most radicalization doesn’t happen in the mosques. The majority of the radicalization among youngsters comes through the Internet and by word of mouth."
Leftist politician Noel Mamere of the Greens Party took a swipe at the government’s terrorism fighting plan, likening some aspects “to the policies and words of George W. Bush,” after the September 2001 attacks.
France is considered a leading European exporter of jihadist fighters in the Middle East, with hundreds estimated to have headed to join the Islamic State and extremist groups in Iraq and Syria in particular. More than 600 French fighters still remain in the two countries, while more than 170 others have died in the fighting Valls added.
The overall number of jihadist fighters in Iraq and Syria had dropped from 15,000 in 2015 to 12,000 today, Valls says, suggesting Western measures are “bearing fruit.”
Hundreds more French and European jihadists have returned home, sowing fears of more attacks to come. Some have already been implicated in last year’s Paris attacks, including one of the ringleaders, Belgian national Abdelhamid Abaaoud.