Jailhouse jihad

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Fears that terrorism is breeding in French prisons

HOME to Europe’s biggest Muslim population and a robust
counter-terrorism system, France has long kept a keen watch on Islamic
radicalism. In recent years it has been spared big bombings of the kind
seen in London and Madrid. But France is no stranger to attack by
jihadists, and officials fear it is just a matter of time before they
strike again.

The authorities are particularly worried about recruitment to militant
Islam in France
’s overcrowded prisons. “French prisons are a preferred
recruiting ground for radical Islamists,” Michèle Alliot-Marie, the
interior minister, told Le Figaro newspaper. She and her EU counterparts
have been working on a joint handbook on how to counter the phenomenon,
which touches many European countries, notably Britain. At the end of
September, Ms Alliot-Marie will host an EU seminar, in the heavily
Muslim Paris banlieue of Saint-Denis, to discuss what to do.

Fiercely secular, France does not collect official statistics based on
religion. But Farhad Khosrokhavar, a French specialist on the subject,
estimates that Muslims make up well over half France’s prison
population—far higher than their 8% or so share of the total population.
Among these there are currently some 1,100 people behind bars in France
for terrorist-related activities, according to Alain Bauer, a
criminologist. Ms Alliot-Marie said that another 55 have been detained
this year.

Proselytising among inmates is common. Security officials are worried
that many radicals jailed around the time of the 1998 football World
, hosted by France, are starting to be released. “Radicalised
Islamists become more influential in prison,” says Mr Khosrokhavar. He
reckons there are a few hundred Islamists actively recruiting behind
bars in France.

continue reading at           http://www.economis t.com/world/ europe/displayst ory.cfm?story_ id=12273877


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