• France's news in English
 
app_header_v3

The French pupils who quit school for jihad

Joshua Melvin · 17 Jan 2014, 18:19

Published: 17 Jan 2014 18:19 GMT+01:00

Who are the teenage boys?

They were typical 15-year-old high school students, their time consumed by social media, mobile phones and their studies. But somehow the boys became connected with jihadist recruiters online. Then on January 6th, instead of turning up for school after Christmas, they began their journey east to fight in Syria, apparently using their dad's credit card to fund the journey.

French newspaper La Depeche carried the helpless account of one of the boy’s fathers, who is hunting for his son. The father is among hundreds of French parents who have learned their sons have been convinced to fight and if necessary die among the rebels in Syria.

Why so many?

Since the conflict broke out over two years ago, foreign fighters have been drawn to the front lines in Syria. The number of French rebels has grown exponentially, with the number up to around 700, French President François Hollande said in his new year press conference on Tuesday.

French intelligence believes young men were first drawn to the effort to topple dictator Bashar al-Assad, but increasingly the fighting is attracting those who want to join in jihad, Islamic holy war. So it was for the teens from Toulouse.

One of the boy’s fathers, who has not been named, told La Depeche his son is Muslim, but doesn’t speak Arab, and was radicalized on the internet.

“From the start of December, my son was brainwashed online,” the father told La Depeche. “There were exchanges on Facebook, videos about the war in Syria. With his computer and on his phone, he was always on social media with his friend.”

The story has common threads to that of two other young men from Toulouse who joined the fight in Syria. Nicolas Bons, 30, and his 22-yeard-old half-brother Jean-Daniel had converted to Islam three years prior and then went to fight in Syria with an al Qaeda-linked group.

Jean-Daniel Bons was killed in August 2013 fighting, while his older brother was killed by a car bomb in December. Before they died the young men recorded a YouTube video encouraging their “brothers” to join the fight.

French authorities said they are facing a wave of recruitment for Syria previously unseen for other conflicts with a tie to the Muslim world.

“We are seeing today a mass recruitment that has nothing to do with the recruitment for the wars in Bosnia and Afghanistan,” an unnamed source told French daily Le Figaro. “It was a couple dozen people per year. This is like a factory.”

The recruiters target at-risk kids and young adults between the ages of 15-25, but it’s also spread to boys with strong ties to their schools and communities. The key to this type of recruitment is the internet, which allows anyone to find “a brotherhood of arms that will consider him a hero if he joins the fight,” Le Figaro reported.

“A 15-year-old boy today possesses a physical and mental maturity that has nothing to do with kids the same age 20 years ago,” the source told Le Figaro.

Story continues below…

What is next?

The young men who fight in Syria with al Qaeda-tied groups and survive will face, at the minimum, police surveillance if and when they return home. Charging them with a crime or for ties to terrorism is complicated at best for prosecutors.

In order to bring a terrorism charge, according to French daily Le Monde, prosecutors would have to show the fighter was involved in a terror attack on civilians or is part of confirmed terror group. The porous nature of Syrian rebel groups and their memberships make it difficult to clearly define terror links.

For the father of the 15-year-old boy, there is only waiting and hoping. He spoke with his son on Tuesday, apparently from Syria.

“He said we wouldn't hear from him for a month, if he was still alive,” the father said. “He was with al Qaeda fighters. During his last phone call to us, he was talking about the fighters as his brothers.”

Joshua Melvin (joshua.melvin@thelocal.com)

Your comments about this article

Today's headlines
French PM suggests naked breasts represent France
A statue of Marianne at the Place de la Republique in Paris, with her left breast on show. Photo: AFP

Just as the burqini ban furore was dying down French PM Manuel Valls has stirred things up again for suggesting naked breasts were a stronger symbol of the Republic than a Muslim headscarf.

Macron quits government before likely bid for Elysée
President Hollande, left, and Emmanuel Macron. Photo: AFP

France's rebel Economy Minister Emmanuel Macron stepped down on Tuesday as he looks set to concentrate on replacing his boss as president of France.

What's on: Ten exciting events across France in September
Competitors in the colourful Marathon du Medoc. Photo: AFP

Summer's not over just yet.

French police officer stabbed by knifeman in Toulouse
Photo: AFP

Attacker, believed to have mental health problems, targeted police officer "because he represented France", unconfirmed reports say.

French parents told to cover naked 18-month old at beach
People enjoying the sun at the Villeneuve-de-la-Raho lake near Perpignan. File photo: AFP

An 18-month-old boy cannot bathe naked, at least according to authorities in southern France.

Every fact you need to know about France's 'départements'
Photo: AFP

So what's the most populated "département" if it's not Paris? Find the answer, as well as every other need to know fact about France's 101 departments.

Brexit: You've got till 2019 Hollande warns UK
Photo: AFP

For the sake of everyone the divorce needs to happen as soon as possible, says Hollande.

UN says French burqini bans 'humiliating and degrading'
Photo: AFP

... and says the ban had fuelled religious intolerance in France.

Opinion - French schools
Ten ways France must fix its 'failing' school system
What must France do to fix its school system? Photo: AFP

Longstanding issues in French school system have not been dealt with, argues journalist and author Peter Gumbel.

Sponsored Article
Five things Americans should know about voting abroad
Politics
Emmanuel Macron: The whizzkid who could shake up French politics
Education
French schools to ramp up security with 'mock attacks'
Features
Where to go in France to find the best ice cream
National
Majority in France against burqinis on beaches
Sponsored Article
Jordan: where history meets adventure
National
How to keep cool during France's heatwave
Society
Parisians invited to swim in the Bassin de la Villette
Society
Five tips for surviving an internship in France
Sponsored Article
Why expats choose international health insurance
Politics
Déja vu? Familiar faces in France's presidential race
National
Meet the man paying off burqini fines in France
National
Eight tips on buying wine in a French supermarket
Sponsored Article
Life in Jordan: 'Undiscovered treasure'
Society
Here's how to enjoy Paris (while avoiding the heat)
Sponsored Article
Why expats choose international health insurance
Society
Ten mistakes to avoid when dating a Frenchman
Society
Twelve 'French' things that aren't actually French at all
Sponsored Article
Jordan Pass: your ticket to the experience of a lifetime
'World's priciest home' on sale in French Riviera for €1 billion
Sponsored Article
Why Jordan is the ‘Different’ East
Lifestyle
RECIPE: How to make the tastiest ratatouille
Sponsored Article
6 reasons expats use TransferWise to send money
National
Paris sees Europe's biggest plunge in 'liveability'
Sponsored Article
Life in Jordan: 'Undiscovered treasure'
National
Life on the home front in rural France's 'war on terror'
Features
Weird facts you didn't know about the French language
Society
Paris foodie event cancelled over lack of security
How to tackle six of the trickiest French verbs
National
Summer in France - 'the ideal time to find a job'
National
'Burqini bans will only divide France more'
National
French vineyards revive horse-drawn ploughs
2,754
jobs available