French government continues counterterrorist deradicalization program

After the wave of Islamist terrorist attacks that struck Paris in 1995 and 1996, the French intelligence community had become a prominent if not the most advanced tool among major powers against Islamist terrorism. (1)

Thanks to priority given to Human Intelligence (HUMINT) and to a long experience dating back from the Algerian war, France managed to deal very effectively with the threat till 2012 when a radicalized youth shot and killed seven people, including Jew children and on-duty soldiers, in Toulouse.

In recent years, the national security issue has grown to a point that an unprecedented number of sporadic attacks took place, punctuated by terroristic mass murders in Paris (November 2015) and Nice (July 2016) killing hundreds and wounding thousands.

The French government ran a “state of emergency” for two years till its very recent replacement by a tougher antiterrorist law which, Interior Minister Gérard Collomb said, should deal with most of the threats. However, Collomb added, in case of another mass attack, the state of emergency could be resumed, meaning that the terrorist threat does remain however at a very high and worrying level.

In the meantime, the French government ran “deradicalization centers” which were almost immediately deserted by its “residents” and eventually turned into an epic failure. Yet the French government hasn’t given up on “deradicalization” since it has run for a year a program named RIVE – a French acronym for Research and Intervention on Extremist Violence – described as “secret” by the media but actually disclosed to the public since its inception in October 2016.

RIVE consists of a 14-people team made of psychiatrists, educators, imams that meets with radicalized inmates – 500 assessed as “very radicalized”, 1,500 assessed as “in the way of radicalization” – and works at distancing them from any radical Islamist involvement and activities.

Without providing any further details except “very positive feedbacks,” French Justice Minister Nicole Belloubet described RIVE as “extremely interesting”, meaning that the program would likely continue in the coming year.

Apparently inspired by US similar programs in Countering Violent Extremism (CVE), RIVE seems not to convince French CT experts as much as it convinces political leaders. Not only is it very difficult to assess its cost-efficiency ratio, but RIVE creates some “exceptional status” for people who do seek such a status to promote their cause.

Worse, many French consider this is another “naive” way of dealing with radicalized people and that it is proof the government is actually afraid of them. The French intelligence and CT community, likely the busiest in Europe, seems skeptical too and some of the people inside hope that the government will someday get more realistic about how to deal with the ongoing very serious threat of Islamist terrorism.

(1) Today, the French intelligence and CT community remains among the world’s top most experienced, effective apparatus. However did it witness its global efficiency decrease because of inadequate policies run by elected political officials.

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