France's anti-jihadi efforts net an 8-year-old schoolboy

France is trying to squelch radicalism among youth, and has produced a video that counters jihadi talking points one-by-one. But authorities are under fire for detaining a child who voiced support in school for the Hebdo attackers.

Lionel Cironneau/AP
An entrance to the Nice Flore elementary school, where an 8-year-old-boy was detained and questioned, in Nice, southeastern France. Police detained and questioned an 8-year-old boy from the south of France who claimed to support the men who attacked the satirical weekly Charlie Hebdo.

French officials have announced a series of counterterrorism measures aimed at disaffected youth, part of an expanded campaign to fight the kind of Islamic extremism that inspired the terror attacks in Paris earlier this month.

But on Wednesday, when French police detained and questioned an 8-year-old boy who had praised the attack on the satirical newspaper Charlie Hebdo, critics asked whether the government had gone too far.

While dozens of people have been arrested and accused of defending terrorism since the attacks, the child from the southern city of Nice appears to be the youngest by far.

The boy first triggered concern when he refused to take part in a national minute of silence for the victims of the Paris attacks, which left 17 people dead. He later declared: "The French must be killed. I am with the terrorists. The Muslims did well, and the journalists got what they deserved," Fabienne Lewandowski, deputy director for public security in region, told BFM television. Agence France-Presse reports that police questioned the boy for a half hour over his remarks.

Sefen Guez Guez, a lawyer for the family, said the decision to question the child at a police station shows a "collective hysteria."

"An 8-year-old does not belong in a police station. This is disproportionate and completely unreal," he told the Associated Press.

While the boy’s case is likely an outlier, French authorities face pressure to face up to the potential threat of radicalized Muslim youth and to uproot extremist networks that have sent more than 1,000 French volunteers to fight in Syria and Iraq.

The French government unveiled on Wednesday its latest tactic in this campaign: a graphic two-minute video showing clips of executions, wounded children, and crucifixions. The video is designed to warn potential recruits that the glory promised to them by groups like the self-described Islamic State is a lie. As The New York Times reports: 

The video, which appears on an Interior Ministry website, Stop Djihadisme, raises what the government believes are the top arguments made by the Islamic State terrorist group and other jihadist recruiters and turns them upside down, point-counterpoint style. It is meant to blunt the appeal of such recruiters, many of whom disseminate their messages through Facebook and online videos.

The new video is part of a larger strategy by the French government to engage with youth at risk of taking up radical ideologies and to overcome cultural rifts exposed by the attacks in Paris. 

Last week, officials announced new measures aimed at reinforcing secular values in French schools. Education Minister Najat Vallaud-Belkacem said teachers would be required to receive new training and students would be more exposed to civics and morals lessons, including how to fight racism, anti-Semitism, and “any form of discrimination,” the Times reports. The new lessons are scheduled to start in September in schools across France.

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