France’s first centre aimed at de-radicalising would-be jihadists was unveiled in front of officials and journalists on Tuesday, part of government measures ordered in response to a wave of terrorist attacks on French soil.
The Centre for Prevention, Integration and Citizenship is housed in an isolated 18th-century manor known as the Château de Pontourny in central France. It is designed to host a maximum of 25 people aged between 18 and 30, the first of whom will arrive next month.
The €40 million government programme will see similar centres open in each of France’s 12 regions. They will take in people referred by the justice system to try to stop them from being lured into jihadist networks that might brainwash them into performing terrorist acts.
Officials stressed that the selection would be on a “voluntary” basis from among candidates who have been radicalised but “are looking for a way out”.
The “volunteers” will wear uniforms, receive medical and psychological support, and take classes in a variety of subjects including history, religion, philosophy and the media. Their day will start with the raising of the French flag at 6:45am.
But the decision to locate the centre in the Indre et Loire region of central France has prompted fury among locals, who protested outside the manor on Tuesday and complained of a lack of security guarantees.
Critics have also warned that the centres may ultimately backfire by fostering radicalisation rather than discouraging it, much the way the struggling French prison system does.
Prime Minister Manuel Valls has stated that the fight against homegrown jihadism is France’s “biggest challenge since World War II”.
The government believes that nearly 9,300 people in France have been radicalised, with the new plan aiming to have 3,600 participants within two years.
France remains on maximum alert after more than 230 people were killed in a series of terrorist attacks since January 2015.
Most of the attacks were carried out by people born or raised in France.
(FRANCE 24 with AFP)