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The Clear Banner: “Update on the French Volunteers in Syria”

NOTE: For prior parts in the Clear Banner series you can view an archive of it all here.

Update on the French Volunteers in Syria

By Stéphane Mantoux

The phenomenon of French jihad in Syria began to get media exposure in 2013, two years after the beginning of the revolution, the civil war, and the intervention of foreign fighters alongside insurgents. For France, the magnitude of the phenomenon is unprecedented, far exceeding the Iraqi or Afghan experience. Departures are accelerating since the summer of 2013 and did not appear to have been hampered by the conflict between the Islamic State in Iraq and Sham (ISIS) and Jabhat al-Nusra (JN). Persons involved in jihad have some commonalities, including radicalization via the Internet and social networks, but typical profile does not really exist for French jihadists: they are actually quite varied. With few exceptions, departures are not carried out by organized networks or veterans of radical Islam in France: they are often individual, spontaneous and so for the most unpredictable. The issue of the return of the French jihadists concerned authorities, and a first attempted attack on French soil has probably been thwarted in February 2014, being the fact this time of members of the baptized “Cannes-Torcy” cell. Faced with this painful problem, calls from families and concerns inside the population, the French government proposed, April 23, 2014, a plan to fight against departures in Syria that has not convinced many experts, answering probably to a need for communication on the subject. This is an update of my first article that will discusses the evolution of recruitment in France from February until early June 2014 : the building of a “family jihad“, the acceleration of recruitment with the formation of a French brigade in JN and probably within ISIS, and attempts by the French government to send signals more or less suitable for jihadists.

Family Jihad: women, children, but also girls in Syria

A new trend is linked to jihad in Syria phenomenon: the departure of girls. Anissa, 22, was converted under the influence of a friend of his school in Bordeaux. She married a young Muslim presented by an imam met on Skype and left a farewell letter to his mother. Dozens of French are affected by this phenomenon: Ly, 19, a student from Senegal, left with her baby of 15 months. She is accompanied by a schoolgirl, 17, of Epinay, who stole the credit card from her father to finance the trip1. At the same time, at the end of February 2014, a 14 year-old girl from Grenoble was arrested at the airport Lyon-Saint-Exupéry as she was about to fly to Istanbul. Placed in a home, she fled before being caught again the next day. This is the third minor at least trying to reach Syria in January 2014 after a 15 year old girl who managed to make it to Syria2. Nora, 16, has gone on January 23; her brother says she was manipulated by others and, in mid-March, she regrets her departure in Syria3. Her brother went once to bring her back in February4; he went to the Turkish border, he succeeded in a second attempt in April 2014 to go to Syria and to see his sister two times5. At the end of March, Barbara Marie Rigolaud, a French 35-year-old from Nanterre, was arrested by the PYD (Kurdish party that controls areas in north-northeast Syria) near Aleppo. She had joined JN after having belonged to ISIS. She arrived in Syria in May 2013 with her husband and four children6. Also in March 2014 the mother of Assia, the girl of 23 months led by his father since October 2013 in Syria, launched numerous calls for help. Sahra, a 17-year-old from Lézignan-Corbières (Aude, southwestern France), would have run away and joined Syria since March 11. She would be shipped to Marignane in a flight to Turkey. On March 14, she confirmed to her brother that she is in the Aleppo region. Sahra, who practiced Islam for at least one year, had apparently prepared her départure7. Along the same lines, a young schoolgirl, 16, with the dual French and Algerian nationalities, living in Troyes, is reported in Syria by his parents on April 8, 2014, radicalized only in few months. She would have received as Sahra a sum of money in cash by an intermediary to pay her travel8. She was stopped in Germany before she could reach Syria.

Ongoing recruitment in early 2014

France Info interviews in February 2014, two French who have gone to fight in Syria, Abu Chaak, 24, and Abu Dahuk, 26. They say they are from the Paris region, fighting in the Aleppo region and belong to ISIS. Dahuk is among the first French arrived in Syria at the beginning of 2013 ; he plans not to return to France to carry out attacks but to die as a “martyr” on Syrian soil9. In March, Seif al-Qalam, a young man of 27 who also comes from the Paris region, who fought for ISIS before joining JN (he arrived on site in July 2013 with his wife and children), claiming that the latter group includes a brigade composed entirely of French (a hundred men?) which he is part. That would be the French who have imposed this solution for reasons of linguistic understanding. These men want to fight in Syria and did take the fight to France if it had operations against them10. Mid-February, Bilel, a man with a degree in economics and volunteer firefighter in Grenoble, was killed in fighting in Homs. He had gone to Syria in July 2013 with his brother and several others French volunteers for jihad ; he was clearly radicalized after a breakup. There, he joined JN and takes the « nom de guerre » of Abu Al-Siddiq Tounsi11. 22 March 2014 a French national, Sylvain Decker, was arrested by Moroccan police in Rabat. He was part of a network of recruitment for jihad, particularly in Syria, who worked in both Spain and Morocco12. A draft of a terrorist attack due to a veteran Syrian Jihad is probably foiled in south-eastern France. The DCRI had discovered on 17 February 2014 900 grams of explosives in a building near Cannes, drop point for a member of the Cannes-Torcy cell arrested a few days earlier. The young man, Ibrahim B., had gone to Syria in September 2012, with two others, thus escaping the dragnet of the DCRI for the cell. Abdelkader T., one of the companions of Ibrahim, was arrested in Italy January 16, 2014. Ibrahim B. would have returned the same time in France, having fought as others in JN. On 11 February, he was arrested in the building where the explosives were discovered later13. At the end of April 2014 a young man in his twenties, claiming to be a former French soldier in a regiment of infantry paratroopers, is seen in a video posted on Youtube14. On April 30, the Interior Minister Bernard Cazeneuve indicates that 285 French are currently in Syria, and is concerned about an increase of 75% of the total in a few months. One hundred jihadists have returned to France and 5 were killed15. The next day, a 37 year old Algerian, regular resident in France, was expelled on suspicion of recruiting in France for jihad in Syria. He was arrested by Turkey on board a bus taking a group of French to Syria. He was close to two other men living in Savoie, like him, known to have participated in routing volunteers to Afghanistan and sentenced in February 201116.

The plan of the French government: a communication operation?

April 23, 2014, the French government unveiled a plan to fight against the departure of young people in Syria, including an attempt to ensure early detection of potential candidates for jihad. Finally, the plan provides a hotline of crisis for parents welcomed by professionals, and consider the reintroduction of the authorization to leave the country for minors (measure eventually discarded). Human intelligence and cyber security will be leveraged to identify individuals likely to radicalize17. However, for Wassim Nasr, a journalist specializing in jihadists, these measures come ten years too late. He does not believe in the effectiveness of the alert platform for parents. He also calls to treat the phenomenon as a criminal problem; and indeed, the profiles are varied, too many to be reduced to this assumption, especially since as he points out, all candidates initially do not necessarily have to return to France to carry out attacks. The problem is political, and linked to the position of the French State in Syrian conflict18. David Thomson, RFI journalist and author of a book on French jihadists published in March 201419, confirms that the profiles are very different. If the initial motivations are just as varied, jihad in Syria is unprecedented in modern history, for France, because of the access to the battlefield and the easy use of social networks. He explains how the first contingent of twenty French arrived from late 2011 and 2012, carried an air call via social networks and led to the mass influx that we see in particular in the past year. It also confirms that there is a brigade of French in JN. The link of the jihadists to social networks and different ways from those of previous jihad are the difficulty of preventing the phenomenon and even following it when the jihadists are returning on French soil. The only red line not to cross, according to him, is the threat of attacks on the national territory. At that time, the government intervenes, but prefers to otherwise monitor these social networks, or forums, because they are also intelligence sources. Besides the net of jihadists, who go through many social networks, is almost impossible to control. The only positive effect he sees in the government’s plan is the creation of a plan for parents, but a bit too late20. The government’s plan would therefore mainly be reported as a communication strategy after it has underestimated the problem in 2011 and may have preferred to see young volunteers fighting in Syria rather than to carry out attacks on French soil21. According to RTL, the platform for reporting jihad’s candidates registered 24 reportings, in ten days, in 16 departments: 8 women and 16 men, aged 14 to 34. 5 of these 16 people are actually going to Syria22.

For David Thomson, the French jihadists are leaving to assume a defensive jihad against the regime of Bashar al-Assad, but also because they believe in the Muslim prophecies of the end times, the Apocalypse, to be held in Syria (land of Sham). There is no portrait type of French jihadist even if some are from disadvantaged neighborhoods of large cities, others come from the countryside and have never met a Muslim. Many are offenders, but not all, some being fully inserted into the social fabric. The only common denominator is the role of the Internet and social networks. These helped to streamline the message of jihad and extend it to a wider younger audience. Most of the jihadists become self-taught via the net23. The first French who have left in 2011-2012 went through the Maghreb, especially Tunisia, at a time when there was still no “network” organized. Today the route is more direct, via a flight to Turkey and supported at the border by the rebels, without necessarily routing of organized networks. There they find the French, as they are often recent converts, and can integrate, for example, the French brigade in JN where there are several important figures of the jihad media on social networks. The French who go seek above all to live in a land of “authentic” Islam or to die as a martyr. But some disappointed can leave, as it happened for two teenagers in Toulouse in January 2014. Women go for the same reasons, they do not fight even if they learn to use weapons like AK-47 to defend themselves. These women may marry a jihadist aspirant before leaving, are going in family if they are married long with one of them, or get a promise of marriage in Syria. Contrary to many rumors circulating on the web, there is no “sexual jihad” but a matrimonial jihad. For David Thomson, there is a difference between the French fighting with JN, which would favor for the moment the fight against the Syrian regime and a martyr’s death, and those of ISIS, considering for attacks on French soil24. For Gilles Keppel, this Salafism in France in some cities, such as Roubaix and other cities, reflects a “jihad of the poor“, with people often marked by the confusion between virtual world and real world. Often, family or local environment Salafi trend predates imprisonment. Finally, the cause of the Syrian jihad attracts to it a much wider audience, sometimes beyond the Muslim group, as also said David Thomson25.

13 May 2014, 6 jihadists returning from Syria were arrested in the neighborhood of Meinau, Strasbourg (one of the prominent places of the Syrian jihad recruitment and historical place of jihad in France) by DGSI with the support of RAID and GIPN. These arrests are aimed at young people of North African or Turkish origin who pretended to go on holiday to Dubai, via Germany, when in reality they joined training camps in southern Turkey26. This is probably a signal given by the French authorities to the jihadists, and according to an intelligence and terrorism specialist, it aims to discourage apprentice-radicalized jihadist vocations, and probably also to update the information available and identify patterns. These people were part of a group of a dozen who have gone to Syria in December 2013. Two brothers died in place27. In late May 2014, the French press revealed that Souad Merah, sister of Mohamed Merah, flew to Turkey with her four children to join her companion28.

At the beginning of June 2014, François Hollande announced that more than 30 French who have left to fight in Syria were killed29. Also in early June, the death of Chaquir Maaroufi30, alias Abu Shaheeed, a young French, 30, was announced and was a member of ISIS. He comes from Pyrenees-Atlantiques (southwestern France, near Pau). He went to Syria in the second half of 2013, probably via Morocco, where he had gone in 2011 after being convicted in France for criminal activities. Abu Shaheed was a figure of recruitment for the Syrian jihad on social networks.

Summary table of the official estimates provided by the French Minister of the Interior, Manuel Valls, then Bernard Cazeneuve (his successor) about French people who left in Syria (May 2013-May 2014).

Total since 2011

Still in Syria

Returned in France

Killed

In Transit

Those who want to leave France to Syria

May 2013

120

50

30

40

September 2013

130

50

10

40

100

October 2013

184

80

14

December 2013

+400

184

80

14

100

January 2014

700

250

76

26

150

April 2014

285

100

25

120

NOTES:

19 David THOMSON, Les Français jihadistes, Paris, Editions des Arènes, 2014.

al-Andalus Media presents a new video message from al-Qā’idah in the Islamic Maghrib: “Appeal From the French Captive to President Francois Hollande”

GA8Iic

___________

Source: https://alfidaa.info/vb/showthread.php?t=99649

To inquire about a translation for this video message for a fee email: azelin@jihadology.net

GUEST POST: “Hide These Jihadists That I Can’t See: The French Volunteers In Syria”

NOTE: As with all guest posts, the opinions expressed below are those of the guest author and they do not necessarily represent the views of this blogs administrator and does not at all represent his employer at the Washington Institute for Near East Policy.

Jihadology.net aims to not only provide primary sources for researchers and occasional analysis of them, but also to allow other young and upcoming students as well as established academics or policy wonks to contribute original analysis on issues related to jihadism. If you would like to contribute a piece, please email your idea/post to azelin [at] jihadology [dot] net.

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Hide These Jihadists That I Can’t See: The French Volunteers In Syria

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By Stéphane Mantoux

Thanks to Timothy Holman and Yves Trotignon for their help in writing this article.

This article was originally published in French for Alliance Geostrategique and cross-posted at Historicoblog. Alliance Geostrategique and Stéphane Mantoux, the author of the article and the one who translated it to English, has given permission to Jihadology to exclusively publish the English translation.

The case of French who left to fight in Syria poses a particular problem. It really became visible (through the media, in particular) in 2013, when the number of volunteers began growing substantially. Like other European contingents, jihad in Syria is the largest movement of its kind since the war against the Soviets in Afghanistan. However, based on the total population of France or even the Muslim population of the relevant age group, the movement is not a groundswell or a massive exodus[1] and it can also be noted that it has accelerated since the summer of 2013 , which worries the authorities, and some experts, about the return of jihadists. But I must say that so far, the information was very sparse. The  Minister of Interior, Manuel Valls, has made a number of statements going back to  May 2013, about the French figures involved in jihad in Syria and most recently in January 2014 saying that a total of 700 in all, involved in one way or another, since 2011. Figures are difficult to verify, but it seems credible and at the least not that exaggerated. The latest study of ICSR, a British institute specializing on the issue of foreign jihadists, dated from December 17, 2013, placed the maximum estimate for France at 413 individuals[2]. Israelis believe that the last figure given by Manuel Valls and F. Hollande is overestimated[3]. Yet what we can know from clearly identified cases shows that the French example does not differ fundamentally from other European contingents of volunteers, except some minor differences[4]. Recruitment, rather wide for the age and motivation at the beginning, seems to have been mainly young men, 20-35 years, more determined and more radical in their choices in the field. It involves both people known for their earlier commitment and often monitored, but also many men or teenagers who have succumbed to the radical message, including issued on the web, without the phenomenon is limited to marginalized people socially. Like all other contingents , the majority of French volunteers joined the two jihadist groups, al-Nusra front (official branch of al-Qaeda in Syria since November 2013) and ISIS, exposed since 3rd January, 2014 to the assaults of other rebel formations, including the al- Nusra Front itself. The starting zones are fairly well identified: the big cities (which again corresponds to other countries), Paris, Toulouse, Nice, Strasbourg, and Lille-Roubaix-Tourcoing, with a majority of departures spontaneous or organized solo, without they necessarily resort to organized networks, the only exception being the southeast (which is a notable difference this time with other states, such as Belgium, where more structured networks involved in the routing or radicalization of the volunteers). The French jihadists are also, once there, quite present on social networks, for the purposes of recruitment, propaganda or to keep in touch with families, as discussed at the end of this article.

An early advertisement for a diverse recruitment (2012-summer 2013)

In France, from the second half of 2012 the press started to worry about the issue of jihadi candidates to go to Syria. However, from the month of May 2012, 3 young men were arrested at the airport in Saint-Etienne as they prepared to leave for Turkey … with holsters, walkie-talkies and night vision goggles[5]. Le Figaro mentions “a few tens of departure” in October 2012 and mentions Dr. Jacques Beres, who treated several French in a rebel hospital in Aleppo, a city that insurgents have been fighting for since 2012[6]. Some also do not hide their admiration for Mohamed Merah. The same newspaper had also spoken in spring 2012 of 6 French arrested by Lebanese security at Beirut airport, and an apparent attempt to enter Syria. However, the domestic intelligence services began to sound the alarm as early as spring 2011.

Information and news articles became more numerous in the spring and summer of 2013, a moment where research specialists started warning about a significant increase in the departure of European volunteers, including French to Syria, which would later be confirmed throughout the year[7]. Not only the French volunteers, like the others, benefit from the fact that access to Syrian territory is much easier than for other lands of jihad in the past, but in addition, they can count, sometimes, on the remains of organized networks for previous jihads, as those who had operated to Iraq between 2004 and 2006[8]. From the spring of 2013 and the emergence of the first specific examples of French volunteers, the reasons for leaving are very different. Djamel Amer Al-Khedoud, 50, from Marseille and has since become a prisoner of the regime, went to defend the Sunnis of Syria, a motivation which derives from the notion of the “defensive jihad,” which is the reason for many foreign volunteers, especially in the period from 2011-2012. Instead, Abdel Rahman Ayachi, a Franco-Syrian 33 years-old, joined Suqur al -Sham (a member of the Islamic Front in November 2013), since expressly designed for the installation of an Islamic caliphate and the strict and rigorous application of Sharia. He was in charge of a group of 600 combatants[9]. Ayachi was killed in June 2013: he had benefited from military training in the Belgian reserve, he took advantage of it, probably, on the Syrian battlefield[10]. Raphael Gendron, a French 38 years-old, was also part of Suqur al -Sham and was killed April 14, 2013. Residing in Brussels, he was close to radical circles in France that provided a number of volunteers for the Syrian jihad.

Raphael Gendron was well known to the French services. Repeatedly condemned by the Belgian justice system, he was arrested by the Italian authorities in late 2009 with Bassam Ayachi, a Franco-Syrian imam living in Belgium and famous, too, for his radical opinions. They wanted to organize a chain of recruitment to al-Qaeda cells in southern Italy. After being released, they returned to Belgium where they continued to lead the Assabyle Islamic Center. Gendron engaged in active propaganda on its website. In a very different case, the young French jihadist that is 17 years-old, from Sartrouville, was arrested by Greek police on May 25, 2013, while trying to go into Syria[11]. He had told his parents of his departure on May 16, after buying his ticket to Athens and taking a passport. The family called the police, who managed to join the Greek authorities. The young man was arrested on a bus in the north, as he headed to Turkey.

In June 2013, a French diplomat noted the figure of 270 Frenchmen who left to fight in Syria[12]. A month later, a French jihadist  present in Syria released a video call to his countrymen and President F. Hollande, asking him to convert to Islam[13]. The man, who calls himself Abu Abdelrahman, announced his conversion in Islam three years before, and have French parents that are atheists. He asked the French to join the jihad. His half-brother Jean-Daniel Pons, 22 years-old, from Toulouse, was killed on August 11th 2013. He had been coached by his older brother, Nicolas, 30 years-old, who is speaking on the video. Nicolas, who has a BEP (a French degree), had fallen into petty crime before converting in 2009 and proselytizing. His brother Jean-Daniel had moved to Toulouse in 2011 to begin a BTS (an another French degree, in advanced studies), after living with their father in Guyana; he became a convert, too. They both went to Syria in March 2013[14]. They went to Syria via Spain and Turkey, telling their relatives they were going to Thailand, before revealing the truth in April[15]. The mother of the two young people, retired from the army, had reported the worrying trend of her sons to the authorities in the month of April. A few days later, a 47 year-old man, from Belfort, was arrested by the DCRI living in Toulouse, he came to visit his family, and had links with both youngsters of Toulouse in the famous video[16]. Jacques Abu Abdallah al- Faransi, a French from Marseille, is also seen in July 2013 on a video posted on Youtube[17].

Another well-documented case is of Abu Hajjar, a computer scientist from the Paris region, who left in April 2013 to do jihad in Syria. This man is fighting in the Jebel al-Zawiya, in Idlib province, among the group Suqur al-Sham. According to his testimony, collected by Le Figaro, it performs reconnaissance on the highway between Latakia and Aleppo, to report the movements of troops and convoys from the regime. He defines himself as an “Islamist activist” and not related to jihadists. His group includes, according to him,  Saudis and Jordanians. He expresses, in his statements, some « opening » in the treatment of Syrian minorities, and explains that his group seeks to convince by opening offices of preaching, for example, but not by force, as some jihadists do. He does not intend to return to France, where he has left his wife and his children[18].

Acceleration of the recruitment and tighter profiles (Fall 2013- February 2014)

On September 1st 2013, Manuel Valls announced that more than a hundred French are currently fighting in Syria, a dozen are dead and some have already returned[19]. Other reports say at the same time that 9 French have been killed in combat[20]. In September, four men were arrested after robing a Quick restaurant in Yvelines, and a fifth shortly after in Chateauroux, Indre. Aged 23-34 years, these five men were in fact monitored for a while by the DCRI (inland French intelligence services) and DRPP (Paris prefecture of police intelligence direction). They belong to a group, one of whose members, at least, from Trappes, is already in Syria. These are people « self-radicalized », with two brothers, and with sometimes recent converts to Islam. They were spotted in anti-American demonstrations in Paris in 2012 (gathering in the place de la Concorde, Sept. 16, against the film The Innocence of Muslims), then went on “collective training” in southern Paris[21]. The Hold-up of the Quick of Coignières was to be used to pay for their trip to Syria, with the possession of a toy gun, they took 2,500 euros in front of the DCRI , which arrested them the next day. They were unknown to the justice system, but one of them has been convicted in 2005 for aggravated theft[22]. The intention to finance their trip by a little hold-up confirms travel to Syria is relatively easy, as can be seen for other European volunteers, and does not necessarily imply the use of organized networks (the trip amounts to 300-500 euros through Turkey)[23]. That same September, a young man from Roubaix (north of France, near Lille) was killed in Syria. Sofiane D., 20 years-old , was killed on Sept. 20 in Aleppo. His worried parents had warned the authorities in July 2013. He was supposed to be in Algeria doing classic Islamic training. According to a magistrate, he had hardly ever left Roubaix before this. He apparently fought in the ranks of al-Nusra front[24]. Two other young men in the area would have also left for Syria[25]. Romain L., 26, of Calvados (in Normandy), is meanwhile arrested for advocating terrorism on Internet[26]. He was the administrator of the site Ansar al- Haqq, translator of the magazine Inspire, published by Al- Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula. He used the pseudonym of Abu Al-Siyad Normandy. In late September, the jihadists social networks highlight the figure of Abu Suhaib al- Faransi, a 63 years-old trader converted to Islam, and who is part of the French volunteers in the insurrection[27].

The French authorities have previously arrested Flavien Moreau, born in Ulsan, South Korea, before being adopted in France[28]. The young man from Nantes, 27 years-old, had imprudently given an interview, at Antioch in Turkey, to a Swiss journalist, in November 2012 and had been immediately spotted by the DCRI. He was arrested a few weeks later on his return to France in early 2013 and jailed. Moreau, who worked odd jobs and prison sentences, had converted five years ago, and had been looking for his last outing in 2012, to incorporate a fighter network. Having amassed a few thousand euros through various trades, he went to Zurich and Istanbul, then Antioch, with the intention to join the Ahrar al-Sham, today part of the Islamic Front, created November 22, 2013. With no combat experience, his commitment holds only a few weeks, after which he returned to France. Other commitments are just as ideological as the two disciples of Jeremiah Louis- Sydney, the leader of the “Torcy-Cannes cell”, on suspicion of the attempted attack against a kosher grocery in Sarcelles, in 2012 ; these two young French people of Tunisian origin are now in Syria.

In early October, there was a Frenchman would-be suicide bomber in the province of Aleppo[29]. Nicknamed Abu al-Qaaqaa, this Frenchman would have detonated on October 9 in the village of Al-Hamam, southeast of the city. This kamikaze attack paved the way for ISIS fighters (he is alleged part of it) and al-Nusra front. On 24 September, Abu Mohammad al- Fransi, a French convert to Islam, had been killed in the same area. In the same month, information is leaked on a network routing Chechen volunteers via the large Chechen diaspora in south-eastern France (over 10,000 people)[30]. Official estimates put the number of then French involved in the fighting in Syria at 400 at least[31]. On 14 October, three suspects of the famous terrorist cell Cannes-Torcy were arrested in the Alpes- Maritimes. Seizures include an UZI submachine gun and a semi-automatic pistol, and a large amount of money in cash. In November, four men aged 22 to 35 were arrested in the Val-de-Marne, they belonged to a network that would bring jihadist fighters to Syria. 2 or 3 of them would fight with the al-Nusra front. The overall figures then rise to more than 440 French who have left for Syria, half is still there, a dozen have died, one or two are prisoners of the regime, and 50 to 60 have returned to France. Of the twenty procedures triggered against volunteers who have returned, only three led to arrests[32]. On November 20th, 2013, Abu Malik al- Faransi, a French 17 years-old, was killed in Raqqa[33]. On 27 November, a man living near Lens is arrested, following the arrest on October 15, of two others in Tourcoing and Roubaix (north of France, near Lille). These two people have went to Syria and returned to France[34].

From the end of September 2013, recruitment in the south-east of France appears to have increased, particularly in Nice and its region. Ten departures at least are listed in Vallauris, Saint-Laurent, and Nice, as well as the side of the Ariane and the city of Moulins, mostly to join al-Nusra front. The majority of young people involved seem to have radicalized quickly, before leaving their families overnight. In 2011, a network already recruited, obviously, for the jihad in Afghanistan in the region. A network for the recruitment in Iraq had been dismantled, also, in 2005[35]. A mother in the Lyon’s region also reported in December 2013 that her ex-husband, whom she is separated since July 2012, apparently kidnapped his daughter to go to Syria via Turkey, to join al-Nosra front. He was radicalized after a trip to La Mecque[36]. He had also approached Forzane Alizza, a jihadist Salafist splinter group dissolved by the French authorities in February 2012.

On December 22nd, 2013, Jean-Daniel Pons brother, Nicolas, (both French from the Toulouse region), was killed in a suicide bomber attack near Homs[37]. The two half- brothers have joined, since leaving to Syria, the ranks of ISIS[38]. Their mother, Dominique Pons, has reported to the authorities about his son’s radicalization, and established in December 2013 with her ex-husband, the Syrian association Syrien ne bouge… Agissons ! According to her, Nicolas has also found in Syria an another man of Toulouse he knew[39]. In January 2014, French intelligence services estimated that 500 to 600 Frenchmen left for Syria, including 220 still on site, 70 who have returned and 18 killed, a number that has quadrupled compared to May 2013. Of this total, 20% were French converts, but most other young people are of North African origin, not necessarily practicing Muslims, but quickly radicalized. Besides the ease of access to Syrian territory, intelligence reports that a major factor in motivating volunteers is that they feel they are fighting for a just cause[40]. 10-14 young people from Strasbourg (east of France, near Germany) have also left their city to Germany, to reach Syria, at the end of the year 2013[41]. A young man from the neighborhood Elsau, in Strasbourg, would also died in a kamikaze attack in Syria in November 2013[42].

There was the announcement of departure, in January 2014, of two teenagers 15 years-old, from the Toulouse region, relayed in the media. Both enrolled in high school in the Arena, the two teenagers went on Jan. 6 to reach Turkey. One of two teenagers, Yasine, was deemed a brilliant student, one of the best in its class. The other, Ayoub, the eldest, however, was known to police, and belonged to a family that could have rigoristic religious beliefs. Yacine bought tickets for the sum of 417 euros and the two young men embarked on a flight of Turkish Airlines to Istanbul. Then they came to Antioch. But it is hard to say if they benefited from the assistance of an organized network[43]. They were caught though and brought back to France, the two teens are finally indicted[44]. The event confirms both the acceleration of recruitment in France, but also diversification. If the majority of recruits continues to come from major urban centers (Lille -Roubaix, Strasbourg, Toulouse, Paris, Nice and southeast), the profiles seem less to correspond to lost youth or social outcasts, but rather to youth that are integrated[45]. The father of one of the two teenagers was quick to warn the authorities and made a public appeal. According to him, his son was radicalized in particular through exchanges on the web, including Facebook[46]. In the southeast, Nice and its surroundings, there were about forty young people who wanted to leave for the Syrian jihad, with more and more young -16 or 15 years-old[47]. In the popular area of Saint Roch, east of Nice, there were have been 7-8 departures between September and December 2013[48]. At the rnd of December, a whole family of ten people left for Syria[49]. In early December, the DCRI had carried out the arrest of an alleged recruiter in the Nice area[50].

In February 2014, Salahudine, a jihadist French 27 year-old from the Paris region, went to fight in July 2013, delivers his ultimate testimony after being seriously wounded in Aleppo. He had brought his wife and children with him, and obviously has not been assisted by a network. He organized his trip through Turkey alone. After going to Aleppo, he joined with ISIS, was trained in a camp and shipped quickly to the front. In November 2013, apparently disgusted by ISIS, he defected to al-Nusra front. He fought in Aleppo, Damascus and Homs. He is paid $50 every month, but bought a $1,300 AK-47[51]. Another French volunteer belonging to ISIS, Abu Shaheed, based north of Aleppo, also delivered his testimony in February 2014. This is a resolute volunteer, who does not want to come back to France, but who is a partisan of transnational jihad[52]. However, according to French intelligence services , the profile of volunteers is now pretty easy to determine. It now comprise mostly men aged 20 to 35 years that are more determined. One third of the 250 French still present in Syria are Caucasians, Chechens who have passed through the region of Nice (which serves as a hub for Caucasians and especially Chechens, with Vienna, Austria). On the rest, we count a half converted and another half of young people of North African immigration, as well as some women. Notably, radicals in ISIS do not hesitate to use foreign volunteers, like the French, for kamikaze attacks. It also points out several cases where people move to the Turkish border and in northern Syria, but do not take part in fight, pending the establishment of an Islamic caliphate[53]. On February 20th, 2014, a young man from Nice, 18 years-old, who went to Syria in September 2013, was arrested on his return to France. Farid had fought in the Aleppo region. He was a young student and left with three other friends from Nice, radicalized after a few weeks. He was imprisoned after his arrest, pending its judgement[54].

The French jihadists on social networks

The French jihadists are very active on social networks, especially Twitter and Facebook[55]. They provide information on their journey, the struggle and the practical conditions of jihad. Most belong to ISIS. Foreign volunteers tend, in Syria, to regroup, for cultural and linguistic affinity, but it is not said that it is always the case for French, although some fight in the same formations. Some come together and know each other before the jihad. We also note the presence of wives of fighters. Social networks are used for recruitment, dissemination of propaganda, and to maintain contact with families. Propaganda plays on the analogy with video games, in the illustrations that can be disseminated. Obviously, internal conflicts among insurgents, as those of ISIS and al-Nusra since April 2013, are relatively missing. Abu Shaheed, arrived in Syria in May 2013, and is part of ISIS, often refers to the pursuit of jihad after the fall of the Assad regime. Another French jihadist, also a member of ISIS and arrived at the same date, which operates under the name If you want my opinion, gives many details about the fighting and claims to have participated in those of the base 80 in Aleppo. Mohammed Abu Muhajir, another French, is also a member of ISIS who arrived in the summer of 2013 and fought around Azaz. He is married to Umtawwab zawjetu ”abu mohammed, a woman from Lorient (Britanny, France), which raises funds for so-called humanitarian work via Facebook, and which claims to have made the trip in France between October-November 2013. Mourad Ibn Amar, also arrived in Syria in the summer, is also part of ISIS. He appears in many group photographs. Under the name Selim Det-R, a man from Roubaix (north of France) is also included in ISIS. Abdullah Wade, another Frenchman, raises funds to renovate homes in Syria in favor of French jihadists. Abu Tasnim is probably a French native of Haiti. He went to Syria on October 17, 2013 and fights in al-Nusra front. Injured in training, he says a lot in social media about practical issues for the journey to Syria, and delivers his experience of war.

Conclusion

It is difficult to make assumptions about the future of the French recruitment for the Syrian jihad, especially because the numbers are uncertain, perhaps even more than for other quotas, particularly in Europe. The difficult situation of the uprising against the regime, since the agreement on chemical weapons in September 2013, and fighting between rebels, including against the ISIS, does not seem to have dried up recruitment. The French, like others, are directed mainly to jihadi groups like al-Nusra front and especially ISIS. Although marginalized in the al-Qaeda system by the recent clashes, ISIS is nonetheless an important player on the field. It can therefore be concerned with both the difficulty following departures, often spontaneous, difficult to anticipate, and the return of seasoned people on battlefield, who wish to extend their action in France. Nevertheless, it should also be noted that part of the volunteers, as in other countries, was involved for many years in jihadist networks, and was previously monitored, which, moreover, leads to some arrests. For this category, it is clear that the intelligence services could make, if necessary, raids on a larger scale. Going to Syria is not a crime, and evidence must be gathered to make the arrests. What is worrying is the high proportion of people who are self-radicalized by various means, including the web, and go unpredictably to Syria, a trip which, as mentioned, by its easy nature, particularly via Turkey, is a boon for the jihadi movement. The major challenge is that with the evolution in the nature of Islamist terrorism, the return of only a dozen fanatical fighters could have a disproportionate impact, in networking, or even in solitary action, such as Mohamed Merah. This is the challenge for intelligence services to achieve a greater defeat of this phenomenon, a task that is become even more difficult. The phenomenon of French volunteers is more complex than it seems, and it will of course continue to be trend in the future.

Summary table of the official estimates provided by the French Minister of the Interior, Manuel Valls, about French who left in Syria (May 2013-January 2014).

  Total since 2011 Still in Syria Returned in France Killed In Transit Those who want to leave France to Syria
May 2013 120 50 30   40  
September 2013   130 50 10 40 100
October 2013   184 80 14    
December 2013 +400 184 80 14   100
January 2014 700 250 76 26   150

 


[1]   Thomas Hegghammer, « Number of foreign fighters from Europe in Syria is historically unprecedented. Who should be worried? », The Monkey Cage, 27th November 2013.

[2]   Aaron Y. Zelin, « Up to 11,000 foreign fighters in Syria; steep rise among Western Europeans », The International Centre for the Study of Radicalisation, 17th December 2013.

[3]   Foreign fighters from Western countries in the ranks of the rebel organizations affiliated with Al-Qaeda and the global jihad in Syria, The Meir Amit Intelligence and Terrorism Information Center, 3 février 2014.

[4]   See my article about foreign fighters in Syria here : http://historicoblog3.blogspot.com/2014/01/and-fight-them-until-there-is-no-more.html

[7]   See my article about foreign fighters in Syria here : http://historicoblog3.blogspot.com/2014/01/and-fight-them-until-there-is-no-more.html

[9]   See my article about foreign fighters in Syria here : http://historicoblog3.blogspot.com/2014/01/and-fight-them-until-there-is-no-more.html

[17] Foreign fighters from Western countries in the ranks of the rebel organizations affiliated with Al-Qaeda and the global jihad in Syria, The Meir Amit Intelligence and Terrorism Information Center, 3 février 2014.

[24] Foreign fighters from Western countries in the ranks of the rebel organizations affiliated with Al-Qaeda and the global jihad in Syria, The Meir Amit Intelligence and Terrorism Information Center, 3 février 2014.

[27] Foreign fighters from Western countries in the ranks of the rebel organizations affiliated with Al-Qaeda and the global jihad in Syria, The Meir Amit Intelligence and Terrorism Information Center, 3 février 2014.

[33] Foreign fighters from Western countries in the ranks of the rebel organizations affiliated with Al-Qaeda and the global jihad in Syria, The Meir Amit Intelligence and Terrorism Information Center, 3 février 2014.

New video message from Jamā’at Anṣār al-Muslimīn Fi Bilād al-Sūdān’s Abū Usāmah al-Anṣārī: “Open Letter to the Governments of France and Nigeria”

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Source: http://www.snamalislam.com/vb/showthread.php?t=21788

To inquire about a translation for this video message for a fee email: azelin@jihadology.net

Minbar at-Tawḥīd wa-l-Jihād presents four new articles from Shaykh Abū Muḥammad al-Maqdisī

Click the following links for safe PDF copies:

Shaykh Abū Muḥammad al-Maqdisī – France and Mali

Shaykh Abū Muḥammad al-Maqdisī — The Award is What the Enemy Testify

Shaykh Abū Muḥammad al-Maqdisī — Shoes of the Mossad

Shaykh Abū Muḥammad al-Maqdisī — And He Smiled From What She Said

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Sources: http://www.tawhed.ws/dl?i=09091301

http://www.tawhed.ws/dl?i=09091302

http://www.tawhed.ws/dl?i=09091303

http://www.tawhed.ws/dl?i=09091304

To inquire about a translation for these articles for a fee email: azelin@jihadology.net

al-Murābiṭīn Foundation for Media Production presents a new statement from Jamā’at at-Tawḥīd wa-l-Jihād Fī Gharb Ifrīqīyyā’s Abū al-Walīd al-Ṣaḥrāwī: “Message and Advice to the Muslims of Mali”

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Click the following link for a safe PDF copy: Abū al-Walīd Ṣaḥrāwī — “Message and Advice to the Muslims of Mali”

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Source: http://ansar1.info/showthread.php?t=46534

al-Andalus Media presents a new statement from al-Qā’idah in the Islamic Maghrib: “Regarding the Case of French and European Hostages”

UPDATE 6/25/13 8:04 AM: Here is an English translation of the below Arabic statement:

hostages

Click the following link for a safe PDF copy: al-Qā’idah in the Islamic Maghrib — “Regarding the Case of French and European Hostages” (En)

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Source: https://shamikh1.info/vb/showthread.php?t=204830

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Click the following link for a safe PDF copy: al-Qā’idah in the Islamic Maghrib — “Regarding the Case of French and European Hostages”

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Source: https://twitter.com/Andalus_Media/status/348438382436827136

al-Andalus Media presents a new video message from al-Qā’idah in the Islamic Maghrib’s Abū Yaḥyā al-Shinqīṭī: “To the ‘Ulamā’ of al-Manārah and al-Rabāṭ: Today Is Your Day”

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Source: http://twitmail.com/email/1271964187/7/%D8%A5%D9%84%D9%89-%D8%B9%D9%84%D9%85%D9%80%D9%80%D9%80%D9%80%D8%A7%D8%A1-%D8%A7%D9%84%D9%85%D9%86%D8%A7%D8%B1%D8%A9-%D9%88-%D8%A7%D9%84%D8%B1%D8%A8%D8%A7%D8%B7%D8%8C-%D8%A7%D9%84%D9%8A%D9%80%D9%80%D9%80%D9%80%D9%80%D9%88%D9%85-%D9%8A%D9%88%D9%85%D9%80%D9%80%D9%80%D9%80%D9%80%D9%80%D9%83%D9%85%7C%7C-%D9%83%D9%84%D9%85%D8%A9-%D9%84%D9%84%D8%B4%D9%8A%D8%AE-%D8%A3%D8%A8%D9%8A-%D9%8A%D8%AD%D9%8A%D9%89-%D8%A7%D9%84%D9%84%D9%8A%D8%A8%D9%8A–%D8%AD%D9%81%D8%B8%D9%87-%D8%A7%D9%84%D9%84%D9%87

To inquire about a translation for this video message for a fee email: azelin@jihadology.net

New release from al-Qā’idah in the Islamic Maghrib: “Journalistic Encounter with the Director of al-Andalus Media Foundation”

Click the following link for a safe PDF copy: al-Qā’idah in the Islamic Maghrib — “Journalistic Encounter with the Director of al-Andalus Media Foundation”

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Source: https://twitter.com/Andalus_Media/status/324991629880619008

As-Saḥāb Media presents a new video message from al-Qā’idah’s Dr. Ayman al-Ẓawāhirī: “Unification of the Word Surrounding the Word of Tawḥīd”

UPDATE 4/10/13 9:48 PM: Here is an Arabic transcription of the below video message:

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Click the following link for a safe PDF copy: Dr. Ayman al-Ẓawāhirī — “Unification of the Word Surrounding the Word of Tawḥīd” (Ar)

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Source: https://shamikh1.info/vb/showthread.php?t=197565

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Source: https://shamikh1.info/vb/showthread.php?t=197188

To inquire about a translation for this video message email: azelin@jihadology.net

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