Jihadists Interviewed in French Jails: Sane, Anti-Secularist and Driven by Their Understanding of Islam

Fayçal Benhassain, CNS News, September 27, 2017

Jihadists interviewed in French prisons came across as sane, hostile towards French-style secularism, and motivated by their understanding of the Islamic religion, according to two political researchers here.

Bilel Ainine and Xavier Crettiez have just released a book, “Soldiers of God: Words of Incarcerated Jihadists,” in which they try to explain how and why young French citizens have embraced terrorism.

With the permission of the ministry of justice they interviewed in prison 13 convicted terrorists, all men aged between 23 and 30 years.

During a debate organized at the book’s recent presentation, they said that speaking to the convicted men helped them to understand what drove them towards violence.

Ainine and Crettiez said their first observation was that, contrary to some public opinion, the jihadists are not deranged, but fully conscious of what they have done, viewing themselves as warriors.

Also, they perceive France, their country, as an effeminate nation in moral decline, where they find it impossible to live any more. In order to become “real Muslims” they took up weapons in what they regard as a war against France.

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For the interviewed convicts, secularism represents a cultural and ideological war against Islam in France, the researchers said.  Any compromise with the West and its consumerist values is impossible.

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The researchers said they were struck by the strong link between religion and politics.

“This is the specificity of this radicalization,” said Crettiez. “They are very ideologically structured people, who develop a very political speech and fight for a cause that goes beyond them. They believe that democracy is not good and oppose it with their own model, the caliphate.”

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The 13 detainees expressed a fascination for the two most prominent Islamist terrorist groups, the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS/ISIL) and al-Qaeda.

But they seemed especially attracted to ISIS which, unlike al-Qaeda, had managed to seize and administer a territory.

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The book’s release comes at a time when France’s lower house of parliament is debating new laws against terrorism.

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