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France announces Prevent-like counter-radicalisation programme

French PM Edouard Philippe says strategy targets 'Islamist radicalisation, which threatens our society'
French PM Philippe flanked by members of government presents anti-radicalisation programme (AFP)

The French government on Friday announced details of a new counter-extremism strategy with striking similarities to the UK's controversial Prevent programme.

The strategy, titled "Prevent to Protect" and described as a national plan for the prevention of radicalisation, was launched by French Prime Minister Edouard Philippe in the northern city of Lille.

Philippe said the strategy was targeted at "Islamist radicalisation, which threatens our society," according to the AFP news agency.

"No one has a magic formula for 'deradicalisation' as if you might de-install dangerous software," the prime minister added.

"But in France and elsewhere there are good approaches to prevention and disengagement."

He called for help from the wider society to face the threat.

"This is a plan of mobilisation. It's a battle that the state alone can't fight," Philippe said.

The French scheme includes training teachers to recognise signs of "radicalisation" in students, strict scrutinisation of private Islamic schools, creating separate prison spaces for “radicalised” inmates and establishing rehabilitation centres for militants.

France has called for French Islamic State (IS) group militants to be dealt with by their captors in Iraq and Syria.

"They are fighters. They are French, but they are our enemies. The conclusion is that they will be judged by those who they fought," Foreign Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian said earlier this month.

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Still, more than 500 people are in prison for terrorism offences and 1,150 prisoners have been labelled as potentially "radicalised". The plan calls for creating 1,500 prison places to separate such inmates.

The French strategy mirrors Prevent, the British “counter-radicalisation” programme that has been widely slammed as biased and ineffective.

The EU has been promoting Prevent-like counter-extremism initiatives across its member states, in spite of the UK's forthcoming departure from the bloc.

"The government's own data confirm that the Prevent strategy is unjust and dangerously counterproductive," Amrit Singh, senior legal officer for national security and counter-terrorism at the Open Society Justice Initiative, told Middle East Eye in November.

"Large numbers of people - mostly Muslim - are being needlessly referred to this inherently stigmatising programme."