Manual outlines Muslim radicalization in prisons

Manual outlines Muslim radicalization in prisons

PARIS—Security officials from several European countries have developed a manual to help prison authorities prevent their jailhouses from becoming incubators for Muslim extremists.

The manual, developed by France, Germany and Austria, includes signs that may indicate that a prisoner was becoming radicalized, including the presence of a growing beard. A prison group feared the manual could stigmatize Muslim inmates.

The document was distributed at a two-day closed-door conference of European security experts that ended Wednesday. It will be given to prison personnel.

Prisons “can be a facilitator and an accelerator” of radicalization and inmates are often “strongly destabilized” and therefore malleable, said Christophe Chaboud, head of France“s Anti-Terrorist Coordination Unit.

“It is not a question of religion but of confrontation with the West,” Chaboud said in a telephone interview.

Islam is the second-largest religion in France and, while there are no official figures available, Muslims make up a large part of the inmate population—the majority in some prisons.

A disproportionate number of Muslims can be found in prisons in other European Union countries.

France, working  with EU partners, found they shared problems of Muslim radicalization in prisons, Chaboud said. U.S. officials are also concerned about the potential for radicalization in their prisons.

The manual contains sensitive information drawn from experiences from European and other security officials, including New York City police, Chaboud said. For security reasons, there are no plans to make its contents public.


Experts say radicalization can range from an interest in religious books to hostility toward non-Muslims seen in a refusal to shower with them. Several top officials said new beards were one warning sign.


Today, some 80 inmates in France—in a prison population of 64,000—are considered hard-core extremists, National Prison Administration Director Claude d”Harcourt said in an interview.


French Interior Minister Michele Alliot-Marie put the number at more than 100.


“The problem isn”t the 80. It”s the circle around them—200 to 300 who could be tempted,” and whether those who become radicals take action once out of prison, d”Harcourt said.


Outward changes, such as growing a beard, are not a sure sign of radicalization, said Moulay el Hassan Alaoui-Talibi, who is in charge of Muslim chaplains in France.


“You can find people who don”t grow a beard or wear a djellaba (robe) who can be more dangerous than those who do,” he said.


The spokesman for the International Prison Observatory, Hugues de Suremain, voiced fears the manual could further stigmatize Muslim inmates, who lack the range of religious benefits provided to Christians.


France began massive arrests of Islamic militants linked to insurgents in Algeria after deadly bombings in subways and elsewhere that began in 1995 and terrorized the nation.


But it was only in 2004 that authorities began to act on the simmering threat posed by jailed extremists looking to turn even non-practicing Muslim inmates into radicals and recruit for their cause.


A terror trial opening Thursday in Paris is a case in point.


Safe Bourada, already convicted of recruiting members of a logistics group that helped extremists stage deadly bombings in France in 1995, goes on trial again along with eight accomplices on charges of financing terrorism.


Investigators suspect that during his eight years in prison he recruited members of a terror cell known as Ansar al-Fath, or Partisans of Victory—dismantled in 2005—that planned attacks.