French Justice Minister Nicole Belloubet has announced that 254 convicted Islamic terrorists are scheduled to be released from various prisons in 2022 and revealed details about National Anti-Terrorist Prosecutor’s Office (PNAT), a new national anti-terrorist office.
According to Ms Belloubet, PNAT will start its operations on July 1. Tracking of convicted Islamic terrorists who have been released from prison will be one of the agency’s priority assignments.
She said that currently there are 510 detained individuals following convictions for Islamist terrorism and another 943 prisoners who were convicted of other offences but radicalized in prison.
The Justice Minister said that in order to curb prison radicalization, the government has built 1,500 cells in blocks where radicalized individuals will be assessed and 600 cells will be added for deradicalization of extremists.
In January, Interpol’s Secretary-General Jurgen Stock warned the pattern of prison radicalization is becoming all too common in Europe.
Stock referred to prisons as “incubators” for radicalization:
“Because they were not convicted of a concrete terrorist attack but only support for terrorist activities, their sentences are perhaps not so heavy. This generation of early supporters will be released in the next couple of years, and they may again be part of a terrorist group or those supporting terrorist activities.”.
Thomas Renard, a Belgian terrorism expert and researcher at the Egmont Royal Institute for International Relations in Brussels said that radicalization starts out from friendships fostered in prison:
“(They) become friends with influential (radical) jihadis who recruit them … while still others just seek the protection of a powerful group in prison, which can be the jihadi.”
Belloubet assured reporters that the new PNAT is capable of battling terrorism. She explained that the group was “a real anti-terrorist strike force” and that the organization would be independent of the considerations of the Paris prosecutor’s office.
“The National Anti-Terrorist Prosecutor’s Office will also deal with crimes against humanity to strengthen action in this area,” she added.