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France to create regional 'de-radicalisation' centres: PM
[PARIS] France will create regional de-radicalisation centres, the prime minister said Monday as he set out measures in response to last year's terror attacks that killed 147 people.
The centres covering all 12 of France's mainland regions and Corsica will take people referred by the justice system and try to stop them being sucked into jihadist networks where they could mount attacks, Manuel Valls said.
The government believes nearly 9,300 people in France have been radicalised and are capable of violent actions.
"The fight against jihadism is without doubt the big challenge of our generation," Mr Valls said, flanked by the interior and justice ministers.
The anti-terror plan will cost an additional 40 million euros (S$62.4 million) by 2018 on top of current funding and aims to ramp up existing efforts to try to help people already in jihadist networks or those likely to join such groups.
Around 1,600 young people in France are in state-run de-radicalisation programmes. The new scheme aims to bring that number up to 3,600 within two years.
The government believes nearly 9,300 people in France have been radicalised and are capable of violent actions as a result.
30 per cent of that figure are women and 20 per cent are under the age of 18.
The government believes 1,500 of France's 66,000-strong prison population have been radicalised.
Mr Valls said last month that hardline Salafist groups were "winning the ideological and cultural battle" among Muslims in France.
In 2015, France was rocked by two sets of attacks that were carried out mainly by French citizens who had become radicalised and had fought abroad alongside jihadist groups.
Jihadist gunmen stormed the Paris offices of Charlie Hebdo satirical newspaper and a Jewish supermarket in January 2015, killing 17 people.
10 months later 130 people died in coordinated shootings and suicide bombings in the capital claimed by the Islamic State (IS) group.
Mr Valls said at least half of the new de-radicalisation centres will take people at the request of the judicial authorities. They will be individuals "who cannot be put in prison".
The first centre could be set up by this summer and a second is planned to open by the end of the year which will deal with the "tougher cases", including extremists who have returned from fighting in Syria alongside IS forces.
Teams will be set up to fight online radicalisation by "building powerful counter-arguments to jihadist and Salafist propaganda", the government said.
The government also plans to set up a "permanent scientific council" on radicalisation and terrorism, with the aim of strengthening ties between researchers and officials in the counter-terrorism field.
"We need to hear the voices of Islam in France. They must make themselves heard far more than they are at the moment," Mr Valls said.
Under the new anti-terror plans, applicants for security-sensitive jobs - in airports, for example - will face extra vetting to weed out anyone with extremist sympathies.
The vetting "will be extended to the staff who are preparing major events", Mr Valls said, just over a month before the Euro 2016 football championships begin in France.
France will also move to introduce the sharing of airline passenger information, or PNRs (Passenger Name Records), within two years.
The French government has been one of the leading voices in calling for PNRs to be introduced across Europe.