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France will soon adopt preventative measures, currently practiced in Britain, Denmark, and the Netherlands, to stop minority youths from pursuing jihad in Syria. There is a concern that radicals who travel to Syria could return to France with the skills and determination to carry out terror attacks.
Last week authorities reported the discovery of three soda cans packed with nails, bolts, and explosives along with bomb-making instructions at the apartment of a 23-year-old man who had recently visited Syria.
NPR reports that in the past, France relied on prosecuting confirmed extremists as a way to discourage homegrown terrorists, but several government officials said that a new approach will be adopted. “We are working upstream,” said one high-ranking security official. “That’s new in France.” Another government official said France is “not on the forefront when it comes to the prevention of radicalization.”
France has consulted with British authorities to learn from similar preventative efforts. The new approach will encourage local law enforcement, schools, and community leaders to help identify at-risk youths before radicalization begins and advances, then introduce the youths to local prevention centers.
Terrorism expert Magnus Ranstorp of the Swedish National Defense College says that “from a security point of view, it doesn’t make sense to rely on the repressive approach alone.” Security should not be “the first and only recourse …. there will always be fires breaking out,” said Ranstorp. “The preventative approach is the only way forward.”
According to HLS News Wire French authorities reported in January 2014 that roughly 700 French residents had traveled to Syria to join in the fight against Syrian forces. The travel of French pro-jihadists to Syria exceeds the number of Europeans who left to fight in Iraq and Afghanistan.
Some officials say the West’s harsh stance against Syrian president Bashar al-Assad may provide some legitimacy for vulnerable youths who see fighting in Syria against Assad as a just cause.
NPR notes that among the 700 French who traveled to Syria to fight with the rebels were teens as young as 15 year old, leading the French government to consider restricting minors from leaving France, though details on how that approach would be enforced have not been released. Authorities also want to improve cooperation with security counterparts in Turkey, a popular route into Syria for fighters.