France has arrested the webmaster of a jihadist site on charges of "provoking" terrorism, prosecutors said on Thursday just as the government warned hundreds of homegrown Islamist militants were signing up for Syria.
The 26-year-old, identified as Romain, was detained Tuesday for his role as administrator of the Ansar al Haqq website, a "reference" for the radical Islamist movement, and as a translator of magazines put out by militant group Al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP), Paris prosecutors said.
Detained by intelligence officers in his native Calvados region of northern France, Romain said he converted to Islam when he was 20, prosecutors said.
The Ansar al Haqq website that he manages "has more than 4,000 members including 685 that are active" and Romain published statements from Al-Qaeda's north African branch AQIM on it, they added.
They said an investigation also found that the suspect had "an active role in the translation into French and the distribution of the tenth and 11th editions of the magazine Inspire."
Inspire is an English-language propaganda magazine published by AQAP that offers theological support and praise for jihadists.
The arrest is the first time since a law was introduced in December 2012, following the murder spree of self-proclaimed Al-Qaeda follower Mohammed Merah in Toulouse, that France has charged a suspect on the grounds of condoning and provoking terrorism.
The offense is punishable by five years in prison and €45,000 fine.
The prosecutor in Normandy said on Thursday there was “an urgent need to fight against online jihad that tries to persuade people to join the holy war.”
The announcement comes as French Interior Minister Manuel Valls warned that more than 300 nationals or residents were either fighting in Syria's devastating civil war, planning to go or had recently returned from there.
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Most of them were young men, often with a delinquent past, who had become radicalized, he said.
"This is a phenomenon which worries me because they represent a potential danger when they return to our soil," Valls said. "We have to be extremely attentive."