France is experimenting with new ways of halting the drift towards extremism for young people growing up on the margins of society, predominantly in immigrant suburbs where organisations like the Islamic State group or al Qaeda focus their recruiting efforts.
The plan unveiled by Prime Minister Edouard Philippe on Friday is the third such proposal in four years. But this one aims to learn from past mistakes, after three years marked by a series of attacks that has left more than 240 people dead across France.
"No one has a magic formula for 'deradicalisation', like you might de-install dangerous software," 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 from 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 another 1,139 prisoners have been flagged as having been radicalised.
To prevent extremism from spreading further, Philippe said he would create 1,500 places in separate prison wings "especially for radicalised inmates".
“This is the first plan that specifically addresses the prevention of radicalisation," said Muriel Domenach, the secretary general of the CIPDR, a committee under the prime minister tasked with the prevention of deliquance and radicalisation.
"It compliments the anti-terrorist arsenal that the government reinforced this autumn. Sociologists and anti-terrorism specialists agree that a security response isn’t enough."
Islamic schools under scrutiny
Philippe also announced plans for three new centres that will attempt to reintegrate radicals referred by French courts, including some of the jihadists returning from fallen IS group strongholds in the Middle East.
A first attempt at introducing a deradicalisation programme ended in failure last July, with a centre in western France that operated on a voluntary basis shutting down after less than a year.
Other measures announced by Philippe include:
- Investments in psychological care for the children of returning jihadists. So far 68 children have been repatriated, most of them under 13.
- Tighter regulation of private Islamic schools, which have grown rapidly in number in recent years.
- More training for teachers to help them detect the early signs of radicalisation and debunk conspiracy theories.
- More investment in teaching students to separate fact from fiction on the internet.
- Making it easier to reassign public servants that show signs of radicalisation to jobs that do not involve contact with the public.