Muslim Love for Criminals


France struggles to fight radical Islam in its jails

By Alexandria Sage
VILLEPINTE, France | Tue May 7, 2013

(Reuters) - In France, the path to radical Islam often begins with a minor offence that throws a young man into an overcrowded, violent jail and produces a hardened convert ready for jihad.

With the country on heightened security alert since January when French troops began fighting al Qaeda-linked Islamists in Mali, authorities are increasingly worried about home-grown militants emerging from France's own jails.

But despite government efforts to tackle the problem, conditions behind bars are still turning young Muslims into easy prey for jhadist recruiters, according to guards, prison directors, ex-inmates, chaplains and crime experts interviewed over the last few months by Reuters.

"I have parents who come to me and say: 'My son went in a dealer and came out a fundamentalist'," said Hassen Chalghoumi, imam of the mosque in Drancy, a gritty suburb north of Paris.

Malian Islamists have warned France it is a target for attacks, most recently in a video that came to light on Tuesday. This has added to concern in a country which, according to the Europol police agency, arrested 91 people in 2012 on suspicion of what it categorized as religiously-inspired terrorism.

These numbers are by far the highest for any European Union country, although tiny when compared with France's estimated 5 to 6 million Muslims, the overwhelming majority of whom are peaceful, law-abiding citizens.

France, which has Europe's biggest Muslim population, is not alone. International studies show that prison radicalization is a problem in countries ranging from Britain and the United States to Afghanistan. However, France stands out because over half its inmates are estimated to be Muslim, many from communities blighted by poverty and unemployment.

The two ethnic Chechen brothers suspected of last month's Boston bombings, while not former convicts, further underline the threat posed by "lone wolf" militants - young men from immigrant communities acting alone or in small groups who are lured into violent Islam.

One such was Mohamed Merah, who killed four Jews and three soldiers last year in and around the southern city of Toulouse. This marked the worst attack on French soil since 1995 bombings on the France's underground train network by Algeria's Armed Islamic Group (GIA) that killed eight and wounded scores.

Merah, 23, spent time in jail for violent theft. Another suspected French Islamist was radicalized behind bars before being shot by police in October.

In March an Islamist suspect was arrested on accusations of plotting an imminent bomb attack on French soil. He had spent five months in jail last year for drugs and theft offences.

"We're faced with an external enemy in Mali, but also an enemy from within who is the product of radicalization," said Interior Minister Manuel Valls, who acknowledged that Merah's killing spree had revealed a serious lapse in intelligence.

"They start as minor delinquents, move into selling drugs, sometimes do prison time and convert to radical Islam and hate towards the West," he told local media in February.


Noisy, dirty and smelling of garbage, Villepinte is the most crowded jail in the Paris region, called the "jungle" by guards. France's prisons watchdog, after a 2009 visit, described its inmates as "young, undisciplined and totally uncontrollable".

Brawls occur weekly and staff, many of them trainees, live in fear of attack. In January an optometrist was knifed in the eye with a pair of scissors. Absenteeism is sky-high among guards, who say they are overwhelmed by the daily challenge of keeping order.

"Islamic radicalization is a real curse in most of our prisons," Villepinte guard Blaise Gangbazo told Reuters. "But in tough jails like ours it comes about even more easily. It's a good school."

France's prison population has grown by a third in the past decade, partly due to policies under conservative governments of handing down heavy sentences on repeat petty offenders.

No official data exist but sociologist Farhad Khosrokhavar says about half the 67,674 prison population is Muslim, rising to 70 percent in some urban areas. This disproportionate ratio of young, disadvantaged Muslims is added to a toxic mix of overcrowding, overtaxed guards and a lack of mainstream Muslim chaplains to discourage radicalization.

Vulnerable young men typically arrive in jail, isolated from family and friends at a time of personal crisis, and become susceptible to recruitment by radicals. One such case was Karim Mokhtari, who at 18 was jailed for over six years for a botched robbery in which a man was shot.

While in jail in the northern city of Amiens, he met a soft-spoken older inmate who consoled him, invited him to pray and encouraged him to read the Koran in Arabic. "When you arrive in prison you feel completely abandoned. You get there and you need to find some strength," said Mokhtari.

"You're seeking hope and when someone holds out a hand, you take it," he said. However, in a subsequent encounter the new friend urged him to "kill the infidels wherever you find them".

"The idea was to go get myself trained and become a violent Jihadist," said Mokhtari, adding that the recruiters work on inmates' hostility to the prison system and to a country where they often have been unable to find work.

Nearly two decades ago Mokhtari resisted such pressure. Today, aged 35, he works with youth to keep them out of prison and has co-written a book, "Redemption", about his experiences.

Prison workers say the vast majority of Muslim inmates are not radicalized. Yet leaked U.S. diplomatic cables from 2005 cite a warning by French officials that the prisons and poor suburban neighborhoods were top recruitment areas for radical Islamists, and refer to a report by French intelligence services describing radicalized prisoners as "time bombs".

Chaotic jails bear the brunt of overcrowding due to constant arrivals of uncharged suspects, and in cells or the yard, petty hoodlums quickly cross paths with serious criminals.

"It's the little guys who bother us the most, because on the inside they meet the big guys. Then the consequences are bad," said Gangbazo, the Villepinte guard. "At our level, the guards are powerless against that."


Justice Minister Christiane Taubira warned foreign journalists in March against overestimating the threat of prison radicalization, but added it was "certainly worrying".

Asked how authorities were tackling the problem, she cited measures to transfer inmates found to be proselytising to other jails, aiming to disrupt any recruitment efforts to radicalism.

This policy helps to control those prisoners already identified as radical Islamists, but not all recruiters have been convicted under France's anti-terrorism laws. The task is tougher with inmates serving terms for unrelated offences who have turned to radical Islam unnoticed by the authorities.

Untrained staff tend to confuse devout Muslims with potential radicals, said sociologist Khosrokhavar, author of a 2004 study commissioned by the Justice Ministry that was the first to highlight the level of Muslims in French jails.

"The whole attitude to radicalization is outdated," he said. "Those who become radicals are precisely those who do not show it. It happens without any kind of external signs like growing one's beard."

Another hurdle is that France's internal prison intelligence unit, known as EMS-3, has no judicial power, complicating moves to share information with the DCRI domestic security service.

"We send up a lot of pieces of information when we spot them except there's not enough information coming down to us from the DCRI," said Jimmy Delliste, director of the Saint-Etienne jail just outside Lyon. "That's a real problem."

To make matters worse, the prisons' EMS-3 is controlled by the justice ministry while the interior ministry directs the DCRI, both with distinct cultures, hierarchies and goals.


One way to thwart radical Islam in prison is through prison chaplains able to counter such messages with moderate teachings, security experts agree. But here too, France is falling short.

Despite a prison population dominated by Muslims, France has about 160 Muslim chaplains versus 700 Christian ones. Some estimate more than 80 percent of Muslim inmates never see a chaplain, increasing the risk of falling prey to radicals.

That contrasts with Britain, where about 200 Muslim chaplains address a Muslim prison population estimated at only a third of France's.

Abdelhak Eddouk, who was chaplain at the Fleury-Merogis jail outside Paris for nine years before he resigned recently, estimated at least 480 Muslim chaplains are needed, together with a clearer set of guidelines to help them in their task.

Government plans, by contrast, are to add just 30 this year and next - a figure Eddouk said was grossly insufficient to allow the chaplains time to get to know the real radicals and those parroting violent ideas as a form of protest.

"Either the guy is a real radical, or he's a fake radical," Eddouk said. "How am I supposed to know? After talking with him for 15 minutes, I can't."

Homegrown Terror Suspects Turned Toward Radicalism in U.S. Prisons

Friday, May 22, 2009
Fox News
By Joseph Abrams

The four men charged with plotting to blow up two New York synagogues and shoot down military planes converted to Islam while behind bars, a place terror experts say is a cauldron for Islamic radicalism.

James Cromitie, David Williams, Onta Williams and Laguerre Payen were said by friends and family to have become Muslims while in prison, where they began on a path toward terrorist violence that law enforcement officials say is part of a troubling trend in America.

"Prisons can play a critical role in both triggering and reinforcing the radicalization process," read a landmark 2007 report from the New York Police Department, which warned of prisons as a "radicalizing cauldron."

"The prison's isolated environment, ability to create a 'captive audience' atmosphere, its absence of day-to-day distractions, and its large population of disaffected young men, makes it an excellent breeding ground for radicalization."

Many inmates convert to Islam while incarcerated, but security experts have signaled an emerging threat from those who embrace "Prison Islam," which they say is a twisted version of the religion.

Prison Islam is "the convergence of prison culture and violence into religious practice," said Frank Cilluffo, director of the Homeland Security Policy Institute at George Washington University. Often lacking an imam or other religious leader to instruct them, inmates will distort Islam for themselves to embrace prison values like violence and gang loyalty.

And while religious conversion is rehabilitative for the vast majority of inmates, Cilluffo said, Prison Islam can lead them down a much more dangerous path. Charismatic leaders can recruit prisoners to their cause and further swell the ranks of the radicals.

Between 6 and 10 percent of the U.S. prison population practices some form of Islam, according to varying studies. Some join in good faith, some join for protection from gangs, some join for the Halal food they prefer to regular prison fare. It's the ones who become radicalized who pose a distinct threat, federal officials say.

"These radicalized inmates either feel discriminated against in the United States or feel that the United States oppresses minorities and Muslims overseas," Donald Van Duyn, now chief intelligence officer for the FBI, said in testimony before the Senate Committee on Homeland Security in 2006.

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That seems to be the story of James Cromitie, the apparent ringleader of the four alleged terrorists from Newburgh, N.Y. According to the federal complaint filed against them, Cromitie told an FBI informant that "he was upset about the war" in Afghanistan and "unhappy that many Muslim people were being killed in Afghanistan and Pakistan by the United States Military forces."

Cromitie spent time in prison from 2000-2004 and did an earlier stint in Fishkill Correctional Facility in Beacon, N.Y., where the Muslim chaplain was Salahudin Muhammad. Muhammad, who Newburgh city officials say preaches peace from his pulpit, is also the imam of that town's sole mosque, Masjid al-Ikhlas, which Cromitie is known to have attended before his arrest Wednesday night.

Muhammad, when interviewed by, said emphatically that Muslims are not being radicalized inside the prison, called it a "sensational" charge meant to sell books.

"Nobody is teaching radicalism in the prisons. People are teaching prisoners how to get rid of their criminal mentality. That's what's being taught," he said.

While the FBI has identified some prison chaplains as sources of radicalization, some prison experts say the problem is that there are too few imams in the system, which must then contend with the inmates offering their own malformed teachings on the religion.

A Department of Justice report in 2004 found that there was an average of one Muslim chaplain for every 900 Muslim inmates in federal prisons, which it said constituted a "critical shortage." There are 40 imams serving the New York Department of Corrections, which runs 68 prisons.

"When you've got groups that go underground, that didn't rely on chaplains, that's when you've got some real trouble," Cilluffo told

One such group of ex-cons was preparing terrorist attacks on Jewish and government targets around Los Angeles in 2005 when it was disrupted by local law enforcement. A coordinated yearlong investigation brought down the cell allegedly planning attacks on the synagogues in New York this week.

Prison radicals have been most active on the West Coast and in the Northeast, and security experts say they don't currently pose a threat that is strong in numbers.

Cilluffo noted that conversion is a positive experience for the vast majority who take up the religion.

But it doesn't take large numbers to pose a substantial threat to America, he said.

"The reality is you don't need many people. One is arguably too much."

FBI to assess threat from radicalized inmates

Associated Press, August 31, 2005

SACRAMENTO, California (AP) -- The FBI will conduct "threat assessments" of inmates nationwide to determine who may have been converted to a radical ideology and could commit extremist violence upon release.

Randy D. Parsons, acting assistant chief of the FBI's Los Angeles office, gave the directive in a letter obtained by The Associated Press.

"The primary goal of these efforts is to assess and disrupt the recruitment and conversion of inmates to radicalized ideologies which advocate violence," Parsons wrote.

FBI officials have been concerned since the September 11, 2001, terrorist attacks that groups with extremist ideologies may be targeting prisoners as prime candidates for conversion.

The agency has worked with prison officials to identify potentially disruptive groups for "some time," according to the letter, dated Friday and obtained Tuesday.

"However, recent investigations have identified a clear need to increase the FBI's focus and commitment in this area," Parsons wrote.

He said the FBI wants to increase its efforts to "identify, report, analyze and disrupt efforts by extremist persons or groups to radicalize, recruit or advocate for the purpose of violence within correctional facilities."

Spokeswomen for the FBI's Los Angeles office and for the FBI in Washington declined to comment on the letter.

Karen Ernst, a spokeswoman for the FBI in Sacramento, confirmed her office is participating in the "threat assessments."

The order comes as an investigation continues into whether a suspected Southern California terror plot originated in a state prison in Folsom, near Sacramento. Three Los Angeles area men, including a parolee from California State Prison, Sacramento, are suspected of plotting attacks on Jewish and National Guard sites.

FBI Director Robert Mueller warned the Senate Intelligence Committee in February that prisons are "fertile ground for extremists."

"The FBI will be going into each institution and assessing each population," said Todd Slosek, spokesman for the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation.

Slosek expects the FBI to examine the department's information on all "disruptive groups," including prison gangs and militant Islamic organizations.

That shouldn't interfere with inmate religious practices, free speech or other rights, Parsons wrote.

Salam Al-Marayati, executive director of the Muslim Public Affairs Council in Los Angeles, said he worries that some inmates are forming radical groups and "putting a veneer on it and calling it Islam."

Authorities said they believe the Southern California plan originated in a shadowy group at the Folsom prison known as Jamiyyat Ul Islam Is Saheeh.

That case arose after Levar Haley Washington, 25, and another man were arrested July 5 by police in suburban Los Angeles for investigation of robbing gas stations.

Counterterrorism officials in California have said they suspect a list found in Washington's Los Angeles apartment contained potential terrorist targets, although he has not been charged with a terrorism-related crime. The list included National Guard recruiting stations, synagogues and the Israeli Consulate.

Authorities believe the attacks were to be carried out this coming Sept. 11.

Washington converted to Islam in the Sacramento-area prison before his parole in November.


My Perfect Man -- Marrying an Inmate Can Work

Commentary, Jes Stewart,
Pacific News Service, Aug 18, 2005

SAN FRANCISCO--Last week, I got married. I married an amazing man who is educated, intelligent, beautiful, volunteers with kids, is the lead man at his job and is respected by his peers, co-workers and superiors. He is a dedicated Muslim committed to living the path of Islam. He respects my opinion, teaches me, learns from me and has a loving, dedicated family who supports us completely. He is also in prison.

National media have focused on prison relationships since an ex-prison nurse staged a violent escape for her incarcerated husband in Tennessee, killing a guard in the process. On the day of my wedding, in fact, ABC's "20/20" program was outside the gates of San Quentin State Prison trying to get interviews from women about "prison love." I avoided them. News reports question the relationship between inmate George Hyatte and his wife Jennifer. Was she manipulated by some mastermind criminal? Was she forced into marriage because her life was empty?

The media have tagged women married to prisoners as "self-deceptive," "bored with everyday life," having "long-term low self-esteem," "needing an exaggerated way to rebel," "vulnerable and exploited by sociopaths," and "relatively shy and introverted." None of these labels apply to my husband or myself.

A year ago I walked through San Quentin's prison gates to attend an inmate-run program called Real Choice, which focused on teaching young men about life choices and their consequences. I sat in the chapel and watched the inmates educate and interact with kids, some of whom I had worked with for the past six years in my role as an inner-city youth developer.

It was my first time in an adult prison, and it was nothing like I expected. We sat in classrooms surrounded by inmates, with no correctional officers to be found. The inmates spent their day schooling these kids, not scaring them. I watched them all, but one man in particular caught my attention. Yes, he was fine, but there are plenty of fine men not in prison, so that is not what got me. About mid-way through the program, this tall, beautiful man with a long goatee stood up and demanded our attention with his words. Our heads spun to see him as he read his poem.

At the end of the day I approached him, asking if he gave out copies of his poems. He responded by saying, "Here is my hook-up. If you want them, write me and I will send you copies." He handed me his CDC inmate number. That was it -- I went home.

After our initial contact through mail our relationship developed into friendship. And as we learned about each other over the months, love. We talked about who we were as people, what we believe in, wrote poetry, sent pictures, talked about our families, normal stuff. Our relationship is unique though. How many people these days can say they had a strictly intellectual relationship prior to being married? Or kissed for the first time the day they got engaged? All of my married friends tell me communication is the key to a successful marriage. Well, if that is true we should do just fine. It is what our relationship has been based on from the beginning.

While I spend my day working with kids and supervising nine staff who dedicate their lives to combating youth violence in San Francisco, my husband spends his day working from 5 a.m. to 3 p.m. for the Prison Industry Authority. Then he attends college classes four days a week. We spend the weekend together talking, laughing, eating, playing cards and scrabble and enjoying each other.

I am a 32-year-old, college-educated, street-smart woman. I don't live in a trailer park or the projects. My life was plenty exciting before I met my husband. I'm not having an affair, not old enough to be having a mid-life crisis and I am no more of a rebel now than I have been my entire life. Also, I personally believe my husband should have gone to prison for his crime. He is not innocent, and it is not my life's work to get him cleared. He will tell you that prison probably saved his life. Not because of the California Department of Corrections, but because of a path he chose once incarcerated. Is he the same person he was 14 years ago at the age of 17? No. But he is accountable for his actions. He has been paying for them for the last 5,007 days.

He is a rare man. I have to believe that -- he is my husband. I can't believe that men who have been in prison are throwaway men, unworthy of love or attention. They are the parents of the children I see everyday, and I count on them to come home and be real fathers.

I don't know when my husband will come home. We talk about our life together in the abstract, because the parole board is unpredictable. I work on his parole from the outside and he works on it from the inside. We want financial security, a family, a house, maybe a dog. That man behind the walls of San Quentin Prison is My Perfect, and it really isn't about anyone else.

PNS contributor Jes Stewart is a youth developer and violence prevention coordinator in San Francisco.



Gang member jailed over mosque pistol

A MUSLIM gang member who was caught outside a mosque with a loaded pistol has been jailed for eight years.

Marcus Archer, 24, handed the gun to a friend when he went in to pray at the Croydon Mosque and Islamic Centre on the London Road, Thornton Heath, and was arrested by armed police when he came outside.

Archer, a member of the socalled "Muslim Boys" gang, was being followed after he was accused of having a member of a rival gang, dubbed the "Peel Dem Crew", murdered.

Appearing at the Old Bailey on September 9, both he and two other men were cleared of conspiracy to murder.

But Archer, of Croxted Road, Dulwich, admitted possession of a firearm with intent and possession of ammunition without a certificate.

His conviction comes as police say gang violence in areas of south London, including Brixton and Lambeth, is rising.

Leaders at the Croydon Mosque say they are keen to avoid trouble spreading to the borough and are warning people not to follow groups who use religion to justify violence.

Speaking after the trial, Tanveer Sajjid, from the management committee at Croydon Mosque, said: "People who are dedicated to Islam and who understand the religion would not do that.

"Islam doesn't teach violence, but some people are using it to give them a justification for what they are doing.

"We have regular talks at the mosque and the centre where we teach people about the dangers that are coming from some individuals. This is something we have always done, but even more so since the bombings in July.

"There was an incident a while ago with a gang going around robbing from the community in the name of Islam.

"We are always on the lookout for people like this, but even when we see a new face we can't stop them from worshipping and we can't start searching everyone as they come in.

"If we have suspicions about someone all we can do is call the police."

Mr Sajjid also said the recent violence had given Islam a bad reputation and encouraged backlash attacks against mosques.

He said: "We have had to change our opening time to close earlier because of security reasons."

At Archer's trial Judge Gerald Gordon told him: "It is perfectly clear from all that I have heard and read that in the world which you have chosen to inhabit guns are commonplace.

"The courts have to do everything they possibly can to prevent young men carrying and using guns."

Archer, who has a deep scar on his right cheek, has previous convictions for possessing an imitation firearm, robbery and assault.

In April 2000 he was jailed for three years after he put an imitation gun to a teenager's face on a bus and pulled the trigger back.

When he was arrested outside the mosque on July 16 last year he was carrying a blank firing pistol which had been converted to fire live ammunition.


L.A.'s thwarted terror spree

By Daniel Pipes

The Jewish High Holidays this year fall in early October, and that's when a massacre was planned against two Los Angeles synagogues, as well as other targets, according to an indictment just handed down against four young Muslim men.

Law enforcement traces the origins of this plot to 1997. That's when Kevin Lamar James, a black inmate at New Folsom Prison, near Sacramento, California, founded Jam'iyyat Ul-Islam Is-Saheeh (JIS, Arabic for "Assembly of Authentic Islam"). JIS promotes the sort of jihadi version of Islam typical of American jails. As the indictment puts it, James, now 29, preached that JIS members have the duty "to target for violent attack any enemies of Islam or 'infidels,' including the United States government and Jewish and non-Jewish supporters of Israel."

James, serving a 10-year prison sentence for an armed robbery in 1996, recruited acolytes among fellow prisoners. Volunteers swore to obey him and not to disclose the existence of JIS. On release from prison, they promised to get directives from him at least every three months, recruit Muslims to JIS, and attack government officials and supporters of Israel.

Levar Haney Washington, 25, allegedly joined the JIS and swore allegiance to James just before his being released from New Folsom in November 2004, having served his six-year sentence for a 1999 assault and robbery. On getting out, Washington immediately began recruiting at his mosque, Jamat-E-Masijidul Islam in the Los Angeles area. "He regarded Osama bin Laden very highly," reports one person whom Washington tried to recruit.

Two men, both 21 years old and without criminal records, did sign up: Hammad Riaz Samana, a lawful Pakistani immigrant and student at Santa Monica College, and Gregory Vernon Patterson, a black convert who had worked at a duty-free shop in Los Angeles International Airport. The three, plus James, now face up to life in prison for conspiring "to levy a war against the Government of the United States through terrorism."

They did so in five ways. They conducted surveillance of U.S. government targets (military recruitment stations and bases), Israeli targets (the Los Angeles consulate and El Al), and Jewish targets (synagogues). The trio monitored the Jewish calendar and, the indictment notes, planned to attack synagogues on Jewish holidays "to maximize the number of casualties."

They acquired an arsenal of weapons. To fund this undertaking, they set off on a crime wave, robbing (or attempting to rob) gas stations eleven times in the five weeks after May 30. They engaged in physical and firearms training. Finally, they tried recruiting other Muslims.

But Patterson dropped a mobile telephone during the course of one gas station robbery, and the police retrieved it. Information from the phone set off an FBI-led investigation that involved more than 25 agencies and 500 investigators. The police staked out Patterson and Washington, arresting them after they robbed a Chevron station on July 5. Washington's apartment turned up bulletproof vests, knives, jihad literature, and the addresses of potential targets. Patterson was waiting to acquire an AR-15 assault rifle.

The JIS story prompts some worried observations.

Although Attorney General Alberto R. Gonzales lavished praise on "the work of able investigators at all levels of government" in solving this case, law enforcement was as clueless about the JIS gang as was its British counterpart about the 7/7 bombers. If not for the lucky break of a dropped phone, the jihadis probably would have struck. It is extremely disturbing to see law enforcement pat itself on the back for ineptitude.

American prisons are comparable to the banlieues in France, the principal recruiting grounds for a criminal form of Islam. As Frank Gaffney observes, "The alleged New Folsom State plot had better rouse us out of our stupor." Will it? Senate hearings in 2003 on prison jihadism yielded distressingly few results.

The emergence of a primarily African-American Islamist terrorist cell signals a new trend. Native-born Americans have taken part in terrorist operations before, but (again, as in London), this case this marks their first large-scale plot.

Terrorist plans that fail don't make headlines, but they should. This was a near-miss. Home-grown radical Islam has arrived and will do damage.

Even though most Jews resist acknowledging it, the Muslim threat is changing Jewish life in the United States. The golden age of American Jewry is coming to an end


Gangs in Search of an Ideology
By Michael Radu

November 14, 2005

Of the Muslim rioting that began in poor suburbs of Paris on October 27,  Mohammed Rezzoug,  caretaker of  the  municipal athletics center  in  Le  Blanc-Mesnil  says,  "It's  not  a political revolution or a Muslim revolution... There's a lot of rage. Through this burning, they're saying, 'I exist, I'm here.' "[1]

Obviously, Mr.  Rezzoug is well integrated in French culture -- or  at least  in its  habit of theorizing ad nauseam over everything. However, things in France are not what they used to be -- hence the shift from Rene Descartes' famous dictum, "Cogito ergo  sum"  ("I  think,  therefore  I  am")  in  the seventeenth century  to Mr.  Rezzoug's "They burn, therefore they are."

And burn  they do.  Youth gangs,  overwhelmingly French-born and Muslim,  have engaged  in a  nation-wide rampage that by November  8  had  burned  5,000  vehicles,  a  few  schools, kindergartens, police  stations, shopping  malls,  and  post offices.  Police officers have been wounded and an older man beaten to  death.   Some 800  individuals have been arrested and a  curfew locally  imposed to  stem this  anomic wave of gang violence  that is  spreading all  over  France  --  and beyond.   But the  riots increasingly and alarmingly suggest that Islamist radicals see criminality as an opportunity for recruitment, while the criminals see Islam as a legitimizer.

There are gangs, and there are Gangs...

The Independent  tells of  how in  one Paris suburb, Aulnay- sous-Bois,  20-year-old  Abdelkarim,  the  caid  (leader  in Arabic) of  the local  gang, boasts  of the  2,000 euros  he makes  on  each  car  stolen:  "You  want  prostitutes,  DVD players, jewelry?   I  can get anything you want."  His talk is of  poverty, discrimination,  and dreams  of his family's Morocco, but  also of  his anti-Semitism  and hashish habit. "'Look around you -- there is nothing here.  We live four to a room.   Our  parents go to work like zombies.  But we have nothing. Even  the  jobs  around  here  go  to  people  from elsewhere.   This parking  lot is  like our living room,' he said.   One of his friends . . . held a mobile phone.  'Come and look,'  he gestured, laughing.  It was a short film of a Chechen  guerrilla   cutting  off  the  head  of  a  Russian soldier."[2]

If one replaces names like Abdelkarim or Karim with Pablo or Deshawn and Aulnay-sous-Bois with Watts or South Bronx, with a few  extraordinary exceptions  we have  a similar profile: uneducated young  men from broken families, deep involvement in criminality, contempt for their parents' low-paying jobs, identification with  gangs, resentment  of outsiders  --  in short, the lost urban youth of the West.  When a father from Aulnay-sous-Bois complains,  "How am I supposed to inculcate the work  ethic in my son, when his friends have Nikes given to them  by their  drug-dealer fathers?"  that should  sound very familiar to many parents in urban America.

However,  while American  gangs  like  the  Hispanic  Mara Salvatrucha, the Jamaican Posse, and the Crips or Bloods are racist (anti-white,  anti-Hispanic or  both, as the case may be), violent,  and antisocial,  their  exclusive  goals  are money and  turf control.   That is also true of their French (or British)  confreres, but  in the  latter cases  Islamist beliefs play  or could soon play a decisive justifying role.

These exceptions,  however,  are  essential  if  we  are  to understand the  importance of  the events  taking  place  in France's cities  these past  weeks.   The most  important of those exceptions  are the  gangs' religious identity and the elite's cultural  attitudes.   The criminally  dysfunctional youths of  la banlieue  are made  more potent  because  they operate in  an increasingly  dysfunctional society, which in the United  States may  be local  but in France is national. And, as  a  British  observer  put  it,  "Mexicans  are  not Moroccans (think  religion). .  . .   Nor  are the  fires of disintegration already  burning, as  they are  in  [Interior Minister Nicolas] Sarkozy's France."[3]

Abdelkarim says "From my window I can see the Eiffel Tower . . .  .   But Paris  is another world.  This is Baghdad."  He exaggerates  (so   far),  but  should  be  taken  seriously. Especially  when   Jean-Louis  Debre,  the  Speaker  of  the National Assembly and  mayor  of  Evreux,  seems  to  agree, calling the  unrest "a  true episode of urban guerrilla."[4] Meanwhile, the police union chimed in with its own alarmism: "Nothing seems to be able to stop the civil war that spreads a bit  more every  day across  the whole  country," it said, advocating the intervention of the army.[5]

The "Evil Minister"

Naturally enough,  for the  hoods in  the  banlieues,  "Ever since Sarko  came into  the government, life has been s--t," said Abdelkarim's  friend Kamel, age 16.  "He treats us like dogs. Well,  we'll show  him how  dogs can  react."  On this point, he and the outspoken minister, who talks of "cleaning out"  the   racaille  (riff-raff),  are  speaking  the  same language.   The latter  sees the riots as a clear attempt by the gang  leaders to keep control, which he is determined to regain.   The problem  is that the false sense of victimhood felt by the gangsters is shared by many more Muslims.  Thus, Murad, a  Moslem leader  in Aulnay,  says  "Islam  has  been insulted [by a tear gas canister  which landed in front of a mosque]  and nobody  has yet  asked forgiveness. . . .  If
there would  have been  a tear  gas canister  in a church or synagogue, Sarkozy  would have  gone there to apologize."[6] (Never mind  that  on  November  7  a  church  in  Lens  was firebombed and no Muslim apologies were forthcoming.)

Worse still,  the leftist  opposition -- socialists, Greens, communists,  human   rights  activists,   and  most  of  the intellectual elites  also agree with Kamel, that the problem is not  the gangs  of arsonists  but "the  system": law  and order, the police and, especially, Sarkozy.

Le Monde  writes, "To  the provocations  of Nicolas  Sarkozy answers the  stupidity of  teenagers, who  ruin the  fragile economic  tissue  and  burn  the  buses  borrowed  by  their families.   Some of  the arsonists were victims of a system, before becoming  small  mafiosos  taking  advantage  of  the situation."[7]    So,  the mayhem  was an  "answer"  to  the Interior Minister's  calling the  criminals  "criminals  and hooligans"?   Criminality becomes  "stupidity" and criminals become "victims."   It is precisely this kind of language to which philosopher Jean-Francois Mattei refers below:

The betrayal of the language: when one does not have the courage to  face things,  one speaks  to better  obscure them.   We apply  the usual  meaning  of  words  to  the violence  we   know  in   the  urbanized  banlieues  and elsewhere.   In France  one does  not speak  anymore  of 'riots'   but    of   'harassment   actions';   not   of 'delinquents' but of 'youths'; not of 'drug trafficking' but of  'parallel economy';  not of  'policemen' but  of 'provocateurs'; .  . .  not of  'lawless zones'  but  of 'sensitive neighborhoods';  not of  'infringement of the right'  to   work:  but   of  'movement   of  legitimate demands.'[8]

Or from  the statement  of the  "anti-racist" MRAP (Movement against Racism and for Friendship among Peoples):

MRAP has  compassion for  the victims of the riots [but] the words crime or riot are never used.  Instead, all is explained  through   "social,  ethnic   and  territorial 'apartheid,' the refusal to respond to a social fracture expanded by  an ethnic one.  If police were attacked, it is because  there  are  'tensions'  between  this  daily victimized population and police.  As for law, well, the only thing  to do  is check  the  circumstances  of  the deaths of the two teenagers self-electrocuted [in hiding from the  police at  a power  station, which set off the riots] and  of the tear gas canister falling in front of a Clichy  mosque.  Most importantly, MRAP demands 'total mobilization against  racist discrimination' and against "any racist  exploitation of these dramas and sufferings generated by violence.[9]

And then there is the communist newspaper L'Humanite:

Nicolas Sarkozy's arrogance evidently has no limits. . . .   After having  deliberately lit  the fuse, he happily surveys the  damage, and wants time to think about it. . . .   The  suburbs are  not a special case.  The suburbs are  France,   the  France  that  suffers  at  work,  is unemployed. .  . .   The  future of  the French model of social justice  -- of  all our  futures --  lies in  the suburbs.   That is  why Nicolas  Sarkozy wants  to break them. .  . .   Rather than endless images of burnt cars, we must give a voice to the suburbs.  And we must listen to them![10]

Once again,  criminals have  nothing to do with it. In fact the banlieues  "are  France."    And  it  was  the  Interior Minister's fault  for insulting  the rioters.   As  for  the leader of  the opposition,  Socialist Party  leader Francois Hollande, he  made it  clear that he considers "intolerable" Sarkozy's words.   His  party asked President Jacques Chirac to make  "strong gestures"  and "apologies" in order to calm the violence.[11]

All of these "analyses" and solutions coming from the French Left -- the very same Left that was in power for most of the past quarter of century--are unconvincing, to say the least. The Left did try to "solve" the Muslim immigrant problem the only way  it knows:  by spending.   Clichy-sous-Bois' mayor, Claude Dilain,  a socialist  and the  vice-president of  the French Convention of Municipal Authorities, is said to be "a proactive mayor,  setting up  free soccer training for local youth, appointing youth leaders as mediators and making sure that the  community's  waste  collection  service  functions properly. Clichy-sous-Bois is an amalgam of schools, daycare centers, welfare  offices, parks  and a  college that  looks like something  out of  an architecture  competition.    The community library  is currently sponsoring a writing contest themed 'I  come from  afar, I like my country.'"[12] Result? The current wave of violence started in his very town.

As for the minister, his answer is quite simple: "I ask that we assess  correctly the fundamental role of police presence in the suburbs.  The police are the Republic's police.  They keep order in the republic.  If they don't do it, what order will replace them? That of the Mafias or fundamentalists." [13]  Obviously, it is the latter.

Enter the Islamists

For many  years, in  the Paris region, Islamist ideology has tried to  take advantage  of unemployment and unrest. "It is time to  open our  eyes."[14] Now,  youths  crying  "God  is great" rampage  and demand  that areas  where Muslims form a majority  be   reorganized  on   the  basis  of  the  millet (religious community)  system of  the Ottoman  Empire,  with each millet  enjoying the  right to  organize  its  life  in accordance with  its religious beliefs.  In parts of France, a de  facto millet  system is  already in  place, with women obliged to  wear the  hijab and  men to grow beards; alcohol and pork products forbidden; "places of sin" such as cinemas closed down;  and local  administration seized.  The message in the  suburbs  is  that  French  authorities  should  keep out.[15]  Who will replace them?  We have already some clear indications:

Suddenly 'big  brothers' --  devout bearded men from the mosques  who   wear  long   traditional  robes   --  are positioning themselves  between the  authorities and the rioters in  Clichy-sous-Bois, calling  for order  in the name of  Allah.   As thousands  of voices  shout 'Allahu Akbar'  from   the  windows   of   high-rise   apartment buildings, shivers  run down  the spines  of  television viewers in their seemingly safe living rooms.[16]

Those citizens have good reasons to worry indeed.  First, in France (as  well as in Denmark, the United Kingdom, Germany) Muslims are  wildly over-represented  in prisons.  In France they make  a majority  of inmates, and in jails close to the banlieues as much as 80 percent.[17]

Second,  Islamist   terrorists  from   France  (and   Spain, Netherlands, and Belgium) have a profile quite distinct from that of  their counterparts in the Muslim world, inasmuch as they contain  a far  more  significant  number  of  (usually petty) criminals.   The available data suggest that Islamist criminality in  France has a history at least a decade long. Thus, Khaled  Khelkal, considered the mastermind of the wave of bombings  in France  in the  mid-1990s, who  was shot  by police in  1995, became  a hero in the banlieues.  Born near Lyons to  Algerian parents, Khelkhal went to the prestigious La Martiniere  lycee in  that city  but, he claimed, dropped out and  engaged in  a criminal  career because he could not "tolerate being  marginal and rejected by the others" -- and because he  chose to  follow the  example  of  his  brother, Nouredine, who  was already  in jail  for armed robbery.[18] More recently,  two French-born  Algerian and  two  Tunisian immigrants were  arrested in July 2005 for alleged terrorism and  links   to  the   main  Algerian   Islamist   terrorist organization, which  is part  of the  Al Qaeda nebula, while also being linked to a prostitution racket.[19]

How many  of  the  hundreds  arrested  so  far  will  become Islamists once they complete their ridiculously short prison sentences --  usually a  few months  -- and  how that prison time will  help them on their path remains to be seen.  What is clear  is that  the mass of present arsonists will vastly reinforce the ranks of Islamists in France and beyond.


The reasons  for all  this are  often attributed  to factors like "alienation  from both  parental roots  and country  of origin,  and   the  society   in   which   they   live."[20] Sociologists call this phenomenon re-Islamization, and it is increasing in  intensity among  second and  third generation
Muslims in  Western Europe.   Those  young Muslims  who were born in  Europe lost  their ties  with the  country of their parents, while  at the same time their families suffered the same disintegration  as  their  native  ones,  with  parents losing  control   over  their   children,  to  gangs  and/or Islamists.   Hence,  such  youths  are  no  more  Algerians, Moroccans, or  Pakistanis, but  neither are  they French  or British.      Therefore   Islam,   however   understood   or misunderstood,  becomes   the  default  identity.    Indeed, complaining  of   high  unemployment  and  using  it  as  an "explanation" of  Muslim violence  and refusal  to integrate misses the  point.   Leaving aside  the obvious  fact  that, since they  are mostly  teenagers  and  thus  should  be  in school, not on the job market, these youths, "French against their will,  products of Arab-African immigration, intend to maintain their  cultural and  religious specificities.   Far from wanting  to mix  and integrate in a scared France which confuses indulgence  with tolerance,  they continuously look to  their   close  origins,   due   to   modern   means   of communication, and  refuse to  come out  from their identity ghetto."[21]

Second, unemployment  is not  a result  of "discrimination." Hence, when  Hugues Lagrange  of l'Observatoire sociologique du changement  (CNRS) claims that "the main reason for these tendencies  [to   violence]  lies  in  the  unemployment  of unskilled youths,"[22]  he misses  the irony.   Could  it be that they  are unemployed  because, instead  of  staying  in schools, they  prefer to  skip or  burn them and thus remain unskilled?

None of  this is  to say  that unemployment,  which has been running at 10 percent in recent years for those who actually want to  work, is  not a major problem in France. It is, and that  is   the  result  of  France's  massive  rejection  of capitalism.  A   recent  poll   shows  that  61  percent  of professionals,  68  percent  of  employees,  70  percent  of industrial workers,  a majority  of merchants  and artisans, and 60  percent of  youths between  18 and  34 years  of age oppose  it.[23]   That  and   many  Muslims'   rejection  of integration are the two main reasons why it is so hard to be optimistic about  any  short-term  improvement  in  France's situation -- and indeed Europe's.

Why Europe, and Not France?

The fundamental  problems of  the French  banlieues are  far from unique.   Romano  Prodi,  the  leader  of  the  Italian leftist  opposition,   has  already   stated  that   similar developments in  his country  are  a  matter  of  when,  not if.[24]     Nor  are  the  European  elites'  confusion  and inability to  leave political  correctness behind  different from France's.    The  even  more  serious  problem  is  the "democratic deficit"  within the  European Union.   Brussels and many  national elites  show disregard,  if not contempt, for the  anxieties of  the majority,  and for  reality. A recent  EU   Commission  paper   echoes  the  French  Left's approach. As  The Guardian reports: "In an attempt to ensure that the vast majority of peaceful Muslims are not portrayed as terrorist  sympathizers, the  paper says: 'The commission believes there  is no such thing as 'Islamic terrorism,' nor 'Catholic', nor  'red' terrorism.  . . .  The fact that some individuals unscrupulously  attempt to  justify their crimes in the  name of  a religion or ideology cannot be allowed in any way  . .  . to  cast a  shadow upon  such a  religion or ideology."[25]

This, after the very same commission identified a "crisis of identity" among  young people born to immigrant parents as a key danger.  "The document  describes radicalization  as  "a modern kind  of dictatorship",  likens it  to neo-Nazism  or nationalism, and says the internet, university campuses, and places of worship are tools of recruitment.  It says second-generation immigrants  often feel little connection to their parents'  country   or  culture   but  may   also  encounter discrimination in  European countries.[26]   In  short,  the commission correctly  identified the nature of the threat -- Islamist terrorism  -- but  lacked the  courage to  name it. How very Brussels!

France has long been seen, and still sees itself, as a model for Europe.   The  present developments  may well prove that Francophiles are right, but not for the reasons they usually have in mind. Geography, size, and its number of Muslims all make France  a pivotal element in what amounts to a cultural conflict of  continental dimensions.   Following  the Madrid bombings of  3/11/04 and the London bombings of 7/11/05, the riots in  France force  the old  continent to  realize  that there is  a "Muslim  problem" related  to, but not just, the Islamist terrorist  problem.   So far,  only hesitant  steps have been  taken toward  recognition of the former.  France, Denmark, Switzerland,  Netherlands, and Austria have already witnessed,  through   the  political   rise   of   populist, nationalist  parties,  what  happens  when  governing  elite denial of the problem persists. In democracies, someone will always offer  a solution  when the  public demands one.  The present spectacle in France is not encouraging.


[1] Molly  Moore, "Rage  of French  Youth  Is  a  Fight  for Recognition: Spreading  Rampage in Country's Slums Is Rooted in Alienation  and Abiding  Government Neglect,"  Washington Post, Nov. 6, 2005.

[2] Hugh  Schofield,  "La  Haine:  Schools,  synagogues  and hundreds of  cars burn.  It's Paris  2005," The Independent, Nov. 6, 2005

[3] Niall  Ferguson, "You shouldn't have to burn cars to get a  better  life  -  ask  my  Bolivian  cleaning  lady,"  The Telegraph, Nov. 6, 2005.

[4]  "Les   violences  urbaines  gagnent  du  terrain,  1300 vehicules incendies," Le Point

[5], Nov. 7, 2005.

[6] C.  G., "L'islam ne joue pas un role determinant dans la propagation des troubles," Le Figaro, Nov. 5, 2005.

[7] " Modestie et ambition, " Le Monde, Nov. 5, 2005.

[8] Jean-Francois  Mattei, " Philosopher Violences urbaines, crescendo dans la barbarie, " Le Figaro, Nov. 3, 2005

[9]  MRAP,  " Violences:  une  insurrection  previsible  qui appelle des ruptures, " Nov. 4, 2005, at

[10] Editorial, L'Humanite, Nov. 7, 2005

[11]  " Banlieue   :  le  PS  interpelle  Chirac.  Le  Parti socialiste a  reclame vendredi du president de la Republique des "gestes forts" et des "excuses" afin d'apaiser le climat de violence  de ces  derniers jours,  Reuters/Liberation.Fr, Nov. 4, 2005.

[12]  Rudiger   Falksohn,  Thomas   Huetlin,  Romain  Leick, Alexander  Smoltczyk  and  Gerald  Traufetter,  "Rioting  in France. What's  Wrong with  Europe?" Der  Spiegel,  Nov.  7, 2005, at

[13] Nicolas  Sarkozy, Notre  strategie est  la  bonne",  Le Monde, Nov. 5, 2005

[14] Ivan  Rioufol, " Cites: les non-dits d'une rebellion, " Le Figaro, Nov. 4, 2005.

[15] Amir  Taheri, "Why  Paris is  burning," New  York Post, Nov. 5, 2005.

[16] Ibid.

[17] Farhad  Khosrokhavar, L'Islam dans le prisons (Balland, Paris 2004), p.11

[18] Jean-Marie Pontaut and Khaled Kelkal, " Itineraire d'un terroriste, " L'Express, Sept. 26, 1996.

[19] Colette  Thomas, La  France sur  le qui-vive, Sept. 26, 2005, at

[20] Stephen Castle, "Europe speeds up plan to clamp down on suspects," Belfast Telegraph, July 14, 2005.

[21]  Jacques   Myard,  " Assez  d'angelisme,  adaptons  nos methodes repressives sans mollir, " Le Figaro, Nov. 4, 2005.

[22] Cecilia  Gabizon, " Emeutes  : des meneurs au profil de recidivistes, " Le Figaro, Nov. 5, 2005.

[23] Herve Nathan, " Le capitalisme n'a pas la cote chez les Francais, " Liberation, Nov. 4, 2005.

[24] Prodi:  "Qui le  periferie peggiori  d'Europa"  Per  il leader dell'Unione  "non siamo  diversi da  Parigi,  e  solo questione di  tempo". Le  soluzioni: edilizia  e  protezione sociale  ,   Corriere  dela   Sera,  Nov.   11,   2005,   at

[25] Nicholas  Watt and  Leo Cendrowicz, "Brussels calls for media code to avoid aiding terrorists," The Guardian , Sept. 21, 2005.

[26] Stephen Castle, "Europe speeds up plan to clamp down on suspects," Belfast Telegraph, July 14, 2005.


Prison's violent gang culture exposed in leaked report

Publisher:  Jon Land
Published: 30/01/2006

The violent gang culture inside one of Britain's toughest prisons was exposed in a leaked report today.

South London street gang the Muslim Boys, which forces its enemies and others to convert to Islam, is operating freely inside Belmarsh jail in south-east London.

The Daily Mirror revealed that a monthly security report at the high-security jail highlighted "abuse, assaults, intimidation and threats" by gang members.

"Most of the perpetrators are believed to be members of the Muslim Boys gang who intensified their drive to recruit other prisoners to the fold," said the report.

"They force prisoners to accept the Muslim faith - those who refuse suffer assaults.

"Some of the atrocities were carried out with impunity during associations, causing victims to fear for their lives."

It added: "They promise potential converts protection from other prisoners and staff who they challenge at every opportunity."

In September last year, three members of the Muslim Boys were cleared of conspiracy to murder 20-year-old Adrian Marriott after the prosecution offered no evidence at the Old Bailey.

At an inquest earlier this month into Mr Marriott's killing, his mother Ruth described hearing her son shot dead after he refused to convert to Islam.

"We heard gunfire. Adrian was told he would be killed if he did not become a Muslim," she told the Southwark Coroner.

Mr Marriott, an accountancy student and member of rival gang the Peelden Crew, was killed in a park near his home in Brixton, south London, in June 2004.

The Muslim Boys, also known as PDC or Poverty Driven Children, specialise in robbing drug dealers and members have claimed they pray before and after committing crimes.

Some gang members have made unsubstantiated claims about links with al Qaida.

Police and community leaders believe that their Muslim identity has been adopted solely to strike fear into their victims, and to get better food while in prison, rather than from religious conviction.

Chief Inspector of Prisons Anne Owers has reported similar incidents of Muslim gang culture at Feltham young offenders' institution in west London.

She said in a report published in November that she was concerned by the level of intimidation faced by inmates, adding that "bullying was related to gangs and faith allegiances".

Ms Owers added: "There was ongoing concern among some staff that a small minority of young people were being coerced into joining the Muslim faith."

A Prison Service spokeswoman said: "We do not comment on leaked documents.

"Across the estate, it is standard practice to regularly monitor and analyse the security situation within any establishment so that any issues can be identified early on and addressed as quickly as possible.

"Each prison has in place an anti-bullying strategy tailored to the specific needs of the prison with a range of tools available.

"The measures used will be a proportionate response to the threats posed to good order but may include closer monitoring of particular prisoners, moving prisoners to different houseblocks or to the high security unit, or even moving prisoners to different establishments."

She added: "Prison governors are aware of the risks of radicalisation and carefully monitor their establishments to ensure any signs of radicalisation are assessed and challenged vigorously through the chaplaincy.

"The Prison Service works closely with other government agencies to combat radicalism and is currently evaluating a number of initiatives involving the interaction between prison establishments and the local Muslim communities which they serve."


Radical Islam and the French Muslim Prison Population

By Pascale Combelles Siegel
The Jamestown Foundation
Volume 4, Issue 15 (July 27, 2006)

In the mid-1990s, after an unprecedented campaign of terrorist attacks in Paris, the French government dismantled several Algerian GIA-backed terrorist cells and sentenced both operatives and financiers of the attacks to lengthy prison terms. A new wave of convicts followed suit after the dismantling of another terrorist cell before the 1998 World Cup. Yet these anti-terrorism successes created a different set of problems as radical Islamists began proselytizing their views to fellow inmates and recruiting new followers in prisons. Pascal Maihlos, the director of France's domestic intelligence agency, Renseignements Généraux (RG), put it plainly in an interview with Le Monde earlier this year: "It is there, in prison, that a minority of radical Islamist terrorists (about 100) hook up with petty criminals who find their way back to religion under its most radical form" (Top Chrétien, November 25, 2005).

Maihlos is referring to the new dangers posed by the proselytism of some radical Islamist activists inside French prisons. In its seminal 2005 study of proselytism in prisons, the RG counted 175 acts of proselytism in 68 prisons (out of 188 prisons across the country). The 68 prisons in question are generally larger prisons located in urban areas. According to Maihlos and the RG, the most severe acts of proselytism include spontaneous calls for collective prayers (30% of all incidents) and pressures on fellow prisoners to follow certain religious-oriented rules (20% of all recorded incidents) (Top Chrétien, January 14). Other acts of proselytism include special requests, such as requests for prayer carpets, halal meat (meat killed and processed according to religious principles) and suitable places for worship; there are also calls for allowing the traditional Islamic dress code (instead of prison garments) and a few incidents of degrading Christian symbols such as Bibles and Christmas trees. The progression of proselytism appears to be linked to the rise of Salafism, a brand of Islam that preaches a strict observance of 7th century rules and a strong rejection of Western values. Even though the Tablighi movement—which is hostile to violence—remains the dominant Islamic movement in French prisons, an unnamed RG official told Le Figaro on January 13 that "we observe a steady increase of Salafism, with two particularities: a strong rejection of Western values and the legitimacy of violence" to achieve their goals. As a result, the Salafism brand of Islam is now found in jails all across France except for four regions (out of 22), and its influence continues to grow. The four regions that are not experiencing this trend are located in rural areas (Top Chrétien, November 25, 2005).

In the short term, the threat is considered serious because a number of those imprisoned for acts of terrorism in the mid-1990s have been (or will soon be) released from prison [1]. The fear is that once out of prison, they will reconstitute new networks with the assistance of former inmates. According to Maihlos, "Of course, the release of such individuals is a top priority for all intelligence services [involved in counter-terrorism]" (Top Chrétien, November 25, 2005). Such fears are not just theoretical. In September 2005, the French counter-terrorism agency, Direction de la Surveillance du Territoire (DST), dismantled Safé Bourada's terrorist cell in Trappes (near Paris). Safé Bourada, an Algerian, had been incarcerated for almost 10 years for his participation in the 1995 attacks on the Paris metro system. He stands accused of having reconstituted a terrorist network with delinquents he had met in prison. Bourada is now back behind bars.

Additionally, according to the RG, another network headed by a man named Cherifi was also created in prison and dismantled in 2005. A month later, in October 2005, the conservative daily Le Figaro announced that a prison guard in Bourges (Central France) was under investigation for radical proselytism. In 2003, both the RG and local prison officials realized that he "was involved in [radical Islamist] proselytism inside and outside the prison. Police sources indicated that he had encouraged youth to join the jihad in Iraq and elsewhere" (Le Figaro, November 30, 2005). Six other people were subsequently arrested and placed under investigation.

While the risk is certainly real, as attested by last year's incidents, it also appears to be quantitatively limited for the time being. Out of the nearly 60,000 prisoners in French prisons, only 99 are being held on terrorism-related charges [2]. Of these, the RG estimates that 30 of the 90 are heavily engaged in radical Islamist proselytism. The RG considers them particularly dangerous because their previous "terrorist" experiences make them capable of leadership. The RG is also concerned with 20 isolated cases of new converts who are now actively engaged in proselytism; these 20 have been identified as being at risk of becoming overzealous in their actions in order to "prove" their sincerity to their newfound religion. Of these 175 acts of proselytism, the RG considers "that half-a-dozen, based on their past behaviors, could cross the red line into terrorism" (Le Figaro, January 13). This calculation validates prison officials who consider that "proselytism does not necessarily lead to terrorism" (Le Monde, February 4). A prison guard at Osny (a Paris suburb) declared to Le Monde on February 4: "These guys [proselytizing radicals] can exert great influence and have a courtship of 50 around them. Some arrive in prison with nothing, and within a week their cells are replete with gifts from fellow inmates. When the ring leaders are transferred to another prison, however, it all quickly disappears. Their influence is not that deep."

In the long run, two factors may decisively impact the threat that seasoned terrorists recruit common criminals into new terrorist networks.

First, if Islam is the religion of a large majority of French inmates, the prison system has only very recently decided to accommodate the practice of a moderate brand of Islam. In the first ever sociological study of Islam in French prisons, Farhad Khosrokhavar (Ecole des Hautes Etudes en Sciences Sociales), estimated that between 50% and 80% of French inmates are Muslims [3]. That number must be contrasted with France's overall Muslim population, which is 7-8%. Despite these numbers, the author found the almost "complete absence of institutional response" on the part of the authorities to accommodate Muslims (, May 7). For example, Khosrokhavar notes that there are only 69 imams in French prisons (compared to 500 Christian ministers and 84 rabbis) to tend to the religious needs of tens of thousands of Muslim inmates. By comparison, at the time of the study, there were two imams tending to only 20 Shiite prisoners in the British prison system. Khosrokhavar also criticizes the strict security rules and a strict application of the principles of secularism that overly constrict the practice of Islam. For example, in many prisons, according to Khosrokhavar, collective prayers are forbidden; women cannot come to the prisoner visiting rooms veiled; hallal meat may only be available for an additional fee; and prisoners encounter difficulties in observing the Ramadan [4]. According to Khosrokhavar, "inmates view these rules as manifestations of disdain toward them" and therefore turn toward a practice of "wild Islam" (un islam ensauvagé). "Prison administration leaves inmates to their own devices and to the hands of self-proclaimed, semi-clandestine radical leaders," he said. "As a result, the door is open for dangerous interpretations of Islam where rejections of others [non-Muslims], hatred of the West and jihad are the dominant elements" (, May 7).

After the RG report of 2005 on the extent and dangers of radical proselytism in prisons, the French Ministry of Justice initiated a number of reforms to allow for a better practice of a moderate Islam. The cornerstone of the project is the recruitment of more imams to serve the Muslim prison population in conjunction with the Conseil Français du Culte Musulman (a representative organization of French Muslims headed by Dalil Boubakeur). The project is only in its initial stages and only time will tell how successful it is.

The second dimension of the problem lies in the socio-economic profile of Muslim prisoners. Some of these prisoners—young, male, poor and brutally cut off from all familial support (after they land in jail)—may become easy prey for the radicals' recruitment machine. The statistics gathered by Khosrokhavar are quite telling. In his book, he estimates that the overwhelming majority of Muslim convicts are males between 20 and 30 years-old and who belong to the underclass. At the time of their arrest, two-thirds of the prisoners were unemployed. Those who were employed were mostly laborers. Only 10% were professionals, making this group more capable of tapping into the large pool of disenfranchised and poor youth to proselytize a radical and violent version of Islam and recruit them for terrorist networks. The risk is that a violent, confrontational version of Islam finds resonance in a population alienated from mainstream values and progress. If the French government fails to take effective measures to promote the practice of a moderate form of Islam in prisons, it runs the risk of breeding a new generation of terrorists.


1. This was the case of some of the terrorists who had provided financial and logistical support to the 1995-1996 attacks in the Paris metro as well as some of those indicted in the terrorist (failed) plot against the World Cup organization in 1998.
2. This number accounts for both convicts and suspects awaiting trial.
3. The numbers are imprecise because the French government does not ask for the religious affiliation of convicts. This is part of the French concept of "neutrality" toward people's origins. The figures are based on the author's educated estimates.
4. Farhad Khosrokhavar, L'Islam dans les prisons, Paris, Balland, 2004.