French authorities have arrested five people on suspicion of recruiting young women to join Islamist fighters in Syria, the country's top security official announced Wednesday.
The suspects — four men and one woman — were detained Tuesday and Wednesday mornings in the suburbs of Lyon in central France, interior minister Bernard Cazeneuve said.
A police source cited by AFP said that a brother and sister were among those arrested, and that one of the suspects was believed to have links to a banned extremist group known as Forsane Alizza (Knights of Pride), which has urged the creation of an Islamic caliphate in France.
Two of the suspects were minors, the news agency said.
Cazeneuve said the five were "suspected of having played a very active role in the recruitment and departure of several young women to Syria in recent months."
France was determined to wage "a relentless fight against the jihadist networks," he added.
The involvement of citizens in jihad is a growing concern in France, the country believed the largest source of European fighters in Syria and Iraq.
On Sunday, Cazeneuve said that 930 French citizens and residents are either actively involved in jihad in the two countries or have plans to travel there. That represents a 74 percent increase in the past eight months, according to AFP.
In an interview with Journal du Dimanche, Cazeneuve said the figure included "350 [who] are on the ground, including 60 women. Around 180 have left from Syria and 170 are en route for the zone." An additional 230 people were planning to travel to jihadi territories in the region, he added.
An estimated 36 French citizens or residents — not included in the figure of 930 — had already been killed fighting in Iraq and Syria, Cazenueve said.
Around 2,000 Europeans are said to be currently fighting in Iraq and Syria.
France, as well as other European countries, has been considering measures to prevent citizens flying out to join extremist groups such as the Islamic State. Authorities are increasingly worried that beyond fueling the conflict in the region, the involvement of European fighters could unleash a blowback effect as jihadis return primed to carry out attacks in their home countries.
Mehdi Nemmouche, the French man suspected of carrying out the May shooting at a Jewish museum in Brussels, previously fought with the Islamic State in Syria.
On Tuesday, the French national assembly approved an anti-terrorism bill that includes a travel ban on anyone "planning to travel abroad to take part in terrorist activities, war crimes or crimes against humanity or in a theatre of operations of terrorist groups."
Under the measure, suspects could have their passports or ID cards removed for a period of six months, renewable for up two years.
Britain — which has been particularly rattled by the appearance of a British-accented jihadi in videos showing the execution of American journalists James Foley and Steven Sotloff and British aid worker David Haines — is currently drafting a similar plan.
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