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.