As it confronts the threat of homegrown jihadist violence, the French Government unveiled its latest security initiative: a "deradicalisation centre" aimed at the young people most susceptible to terrorist calls for domestic violence.

After three major attacks in the past two years - as well as the Brussels attack in March, perpetrated by the same terrorist cell that orchestrated the November 2015 attack on Paris - French authorities are confronting what many here consider the most confounding reality of this new wave of domestic terrorism.

In each case, the vast majority of the suspects involved have held French or European passports and have targeted their fellow citizens.

More than 230 people have died in terrorist violence in France since the January 2015 attack on the office of the Charlie Hebdo newspaper, and the country remains under an official state of emergency. The French Government estimates that terrorist networks have radicalised approximately 9300 young people in France.

Advertisement

The first of the Government's new centres - officially known as the Centre for the Prevention, Integration and Citizenship - will open at the end of September in an 18th-century chateau in the town of Beaumont-en-Véron, a small community of 2900 nestled in the scenic Loire Valley, approximately 290km south of Paris.

The Chateau de Pontourny facility will be the first of 12 similar centres to open in each of France's departmental regions, hosting a maximum of 25 individuals ages 18 to 30. The Government's hope is that as many as 3600 radicalised individuals will enter these centres in the next two years.

During a tour of the facility, Interior Ministry officials told select French media outlets that admission to the centre will be purely "voluntary" and not by government order, focusing on those radicalised individuals "looking for a way out".

On social media, French journalists invited on the tour posted images of the inside of the converted chateau, revealing dormitory rooms that resembled those inhabited by many university students, as well as common spaces decorated in kindergarten colours.

Officials said that the programme in this and future facilities will consist of a 6.45 am wake-up call, followed by a ceremonial salute of the French flag and a series of courses in French history, religion and philosophy - in addition to time for athletics.

"We can only fight against terrorism by respecting the principles of the Republic," France's Interior Minister, Bernard Cazeneuve, told France Inter radio Wednesday morning.


An Interior Ministry official quoted in France's Figaro newspaper said the programme is slated to last 10 months, a period the official described as "Republican gestation". The Interior Ministry declined to provide further comment.

The Government's initiative has engendered its share of critics.

Perhaps most vocally, a number of local residents protested against the preview of the facility, telling local media that the new centre in their community could easily become a target for a future attack by Isis (Islamic State).

Additionally, a number of analysts - especially mental-health professionals - have also criticised the plan, insisting that the French Government is merely experimenting without any clearly defined method or guarantee of success. Even members of the centre's steering committee have expressed their scepticism.

In an interview, Gérald Bronner, a sociologist on the government's committee and the author of Extreme Thought: How Ordinary Men Become Radicals, said that the notion of "deradicalisation" itself was flawed.

"It means that you can take an idea or a belief out of the brain, and I think that's just impossible," Bronner said. "Nobody in the history of psychology - nobody - has succeeded."

"What we have to try is not a kind of mental manipulation but the opposite - mind liberation, a strengthening of their intellectual immune systems. And it's they who will have to do that themselves."