Monday, November 16, 2015

French prisons breeding grounds of jihadism

What is going wrong in France's prisons? - Telegraph - Harriet Alexander:

January 17, 2015 - "Mohamed Merah, the 2012 Toulouse attacker, moved from being a wild petty delinquent to a hardened jihadist while behind bars, and on his release travelled to Afghanistan and Pakistan to train for jihad. He returned to France and murdered seven soldiers and Jewish civilians.

"Mehdi Nemouche, author of the May murder of four people in Brussels, was also radicalised in prison – travelling to Syria when he was freed and then coming back to attack the Jewish museum.

"Chérif Kouachi was already involved in jihadi circles when he went to prison, and found the experience a Petri dish for his extreme views. Coulibaly, like Merah and Nemouche, went in a simple delinquent from the banlieus, but came out a dangerous Islamist.

"What is going on in France’s prisons?

"Of the 67,500 people currently behind bars in France, it is estimated that 70 per cent are Muslim – when they comprise only eight per cent of the French public. It is illegal under France’s strict laicity laws to count the number of Muslim prisoners, but experts agree that the figure is an accurate average – with some prisons, like those near Paris and Marseille, seeing an even higher percentage....

"French authorities state that 283 people are currently in prison for terrorism, of whom 152 are classed as dangerous Islamists. Sixty of them – almost all incarcerated in Paris – are deemed particularly dangerous.

"France is the country in Europe which has the highest Muslim population, and has also seen the highest number of people - estimated by the Brookings Institute this month at over 900 - travelling to Syria to join Islamic State....

"On the front line is Mohamed Boina M’Koubou, imam inside Fleury-Merogis – the prison where Kouachi and Coulibaly were both pushed towards extremist views.... He said that when he arrived in 2004 at Fleury-Merogis – a vast concrete pentagon, 20 miles south of the centre of Paris – there was no dedicated space for Muslims to pray, which emphasised the feeling of discrimination that the prisoners felt....

"Mr Boina attends prison twice a week, for an hour or two. He teaches prisoners how to read the Koran or talks to them about Islam. He also shows them how to pray, and follow the pillars of Islam.... Mainly he works with the young, aged 14 to 35.

"'Some of them leave prison as grown men. They regret what they have done'... But some, he added, do not find leaving prison easy. 'They can’t survive like that for long if society doesn’t help them,' he said. 'If they find nothing out there for them, they will slip back into bad ways.'

"One such prisoner was Coulibaly, who predicted his own return to a life of crime when he left behind Fleury-Merogis, having spent seven months in the same wing as Chérif Kouachi and hardened Islamist Beghal.

"Behind bars for armed robbery – one of his many sejours at Fleury – he filmed life inside with a secret camera, footage from which was used in an April 2009 documentary. It showed the violence of life in Europe’s largest prison – but also the ingenuity; food was cooked on improvised stoves, marijuana was given to the guards to keep them on side, and messages were passed from cell to cell with “Yo Yos”, plastic bottles swung between bars on a ripped strip of a bed sheet.

"'It’s a school of delinquency,' said one of the inmates."

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