In the scenic Loire Valley southwest of Paris, a town was designated to accommodate the first center of "deradicalization" of Islamic extremists in France. Since then, the community in Indre-et-Loire has been consumed by anger and fear.
BEAUMONT-EN-VERON â€" This French town of 2,900 tucked in a quaint corner of the Loire Valley, known for its sprawling castles, has become a center of anger and anxiety over the past few months. It was last March when French Prime Minister Manuel Valls announced that Beaumont-en-Véron would host the first "center of deradicalization" for those involved or linked with Islamic terrorist activities.
The first people to be brought to the new site arrived last week in Castle Pontourny. There were extra police officers on hand, but they were there to deal with upset locals. Michel Carrier, a retiree, has a house is in front of the Castle. "It's well-known, these residents are angels, there are no problems," he says, with bitter irony. "Everybody is very concerned about the security, and even more since the Nice terror attack."
A neighbor adds "We are told that the occupants will not not be registered as a national security risk (fiche "S") with French authorities â€" but the perpetrator of Nice terror attack wasn't registered either, it's just too frightening."
A "reckless" choice
Opponents, who came with banners saying "Deradicalization = smoke and mirrors" or "No external security guarantee for residents" have organized into an association Radicalement Digne de Pontourny, which counts about 100 members, and has already gathered some 700 signatures.
Castle Pontourny â€" Photo: Radicalement Digne de Pontourny official website
For Christian Matron, another Beaumont-en-Véron resident, the objective of the association is to monitor this choice which he thinks was made "too quickly."
"It's even more a reckless choice given the fact that it is experimental and hardly anyone is able to provide sufficient guarantees or results. Half of the experts are against this idea and the other half support it," Matron says. "We don't know where this will wind up. There is nobody here who would disagree with the idea that we need to test solutions, but to experiment with so much improvisation, when the stakes and the risks are so high, it's just irresponsible."
As to the argument in response to the mayor of Beaumont-en-Véron, Bernard Château, saying that "zero risk does not exist," Matron calls it "head-in-the-sand policy."
Beyond fears around security, residents are worried about the devaluation of their homes and the attractiveness of the area for the tourists. Some locals have already installed new safety systems for their homes, and want video surveillance to be expanded in the city.