The French government has unveiled a new strategy designed to crack down on radicalized citizens who leave the country to join militant Islamist groups fighting in Syria.
Planned measures included a hotline allowing parents to tip off the interior ministry if they are concerned their offspring's teenage angst is manifesting itself in mujahideen-ish tendencies. Once alerted, the ministry will then involve social workers, psychologists, and members of the educational establishment, Cazeneuve said.
Authorities will also spend more time surfing jihadi websites, as part of efforts which will be coordinated with other European Union countries. A Europe-wide register of potential militants was also suggested.
Rebel fighters sit by a tank in the town of Babolin in Idlib countryside after retaking it as smoke rises in the background, after what the rebels said was shelling by forces loyal to President Bashar al-Assad on April 4. Photo via Reuters.
Officials also plan to work more closely with the border authorities of neighboring countries as well as of those of Turkey, which is a usual stopping-off point into Syria for many foreign fighters.
Cazeneuve added that France would not take the step planned by British home secretary Theresa May of revoking citizenship even if it would leave an individual stateless. Citizenship would only be revoked if it was acquired by naturalization and the person in question had two passports, he said.
ISIS has French-language brigades because the recruits did not speak enough Arabic to be integrated into the rest of the force.
France has one of the largest populations fighting in Syria and when Turkish border authorities still allowed foreigners passage into Syria, it was not uncommon to find French-speaking Jihadis on the streets of Turkish border towns.
Based on national estimates of European intelligence agencies Thomas Hegghammer of the Norwegian Defense Research Establishment concludes that France has more of its citizens fighting in Syria than any other European country, possibly as many as 400.
The country’s foreign minister, Laurent Fabius, meanwhile, told RTL radio this week that the figure could in fact be as high as 500. Those who are reported to have reached Syria include several minors, a 15-year-old girl from Avignon and two boys of the same age.
Most fight with the predominantly foreign Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS) — who are so hardline that even al Qaeda disowned them. A French jihadi named Abu Shaheed who had been fighting with ISIS told Paris Match that Syria is "covered” with French-speaking fighters.
The group even has a number of dedicated French-language brigades because those recruits did not speak enough Arabic to be integrated into the rest of the force.
An Islamist rebel fighter holds up an ammunition belt during what they said was a takeover of the Furn Al-Ali building that was under control of the Syrian regime on April 12. Photo via Reuters.
Last year, video footage emerged that apparently showed a French-speaking ISIS brigade. One smiling fighter is shown sitting in the front seat of a pick-up truck. "Before we pulled jetskis, quads and motorcross bikes," he says.
"Now, in the path of god, we pull apostates and unbelievers." He gestures back to a pile of bodies tied up behind the truck, which are then dragged unceremoniously to a mass grave.
Other European governments are becoming increasingly concerned about the dangers of radicalized militants returning home after fighting in Syria.
Dutch interior minister Ronald Plasterk, speaking at the launch of the Dutch intelligence agency's annual report, also warned of the security risks they posed after becoming “habituated to extreme violence and radicalized in their intolerant and violent ideological orientation.”
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