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French prisons, recruiting ground for Islamists

Latest update : 2008-09-11

Five men were arrested in Western France for a possible terror plot. This comes as French Interior Minister Michèle Alliot-Marie said Islamism in France was very much alive and had found an ideal recruiting ground in the country's prisons.

PARIS, Sept 11 (Reuters) - France has arrested 55 militant
Islamists this year and the country's prisons have become a
favourite recruiting ground for such groups, Interior Minister
Michele Alliot-Marie said in an interview published on Thursday.

While some Islamists are still travelling to Iraq, Pakistani
and Afghan networks have strengthened, and "training and
indoctrination sites" are now concentrated in that area,
Alliot-Marie said in an interview with French daily Le Figaro.

"I can reveal that 89 Islamist activists were arrested in
France in 2007, and that 55 others have been arrested on our
soil since the start of the year," she said.

Prisons and some poor suburban neighbourhoods, many of which
house large numbers of families of African and North African
origin, were among recruiting networks' favoured targets.

"French prisons are a favoured recruiting ground for radical
Islamists. That is one of my concerns," Alliot-Marie said.

"I have just suggested to my European colleagues that we
create a manual on Islamism in prisons, to better inform
security professionals on how to detect and prevent this kind of

The organisation of al Qaeda has evolved from a centralised
structure to a loose web of cells, and the nature of their
attacks has also changed, the interior minister said.

"The terrorists have changed tactics. Several leaders of
Gulf countries have told me that attacks organised long in
advance are giving way to unplanned attacks of opportunity
committed by individuals indoctrinated via the Internet,"
Alliot-Marie said.

"Sometimes they are not even part of a network. This new
danger is therefore much harder to detect and follow."

She also called for wider screening of air passengers.

Currently, on flights from five countries including Pakistan
and Yemen, the names and travel details of passengers who have
been flagged as "dangerous" are sent to the French authorities
in agreement with airlines, Alliot-Marie said.

"We want to extend this measure to other countries and to
flights with a stopover, which would prevent for example
travelling via Switzerland when coming from Pakistan to cover
your tracks." She said she also wanted to include information on
whether passengers were accompanied.

Date created : 2008-09-11