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An inside look at Islamic militants
by Sebastian Rotella
In the cottage industry of international terrorism experts that has developed since the Sept. 11 attacks, Farhad Khosrokhavar stands out.
The Iranian French professor at the Ecole des Hautes Etudes de Sciences Sociales here has explored the underworld of Islamic extremism through rare access to impeccable sources: the militants themselves. He has conducted in-depth interviews in French prisons with 15 inmates convicted of terrorism-related offenses such as the assassination by Al Qaeda agents of an anti-Taliban leader in Afghanistan and a plot to bomb the U.S. Embassy in Paris.
Inmates often were hostile at first. Some accused him of being a government spy. But the wry 59-year-old won them over with the persistence of a good listener. It didn't hurt that he is a Shiite Muslim who speaks Arabic.
His case studies have proved particularly relevant as the French government leads a Europe-wide push to fight radicalization in Muslim inmate populations. Recently, the French Interior Ministry prepared a handbook to help prison staff and others in law enforcement detect extremist activity behind bars.
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