• France edition
 
French Face of the Week
The French pupils who quit school for jihad
One of two French boys, 15, from Toulouse who ran off to fight in the Syrian civil war. Photo: Screengrab/France TV

The French pupils who quit school for jihad

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

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.”

Don't miss stories about France, join us on Facebook and Twitter

Joshua Melvin (joshua.melvin@thelocal.com)

Your comments about this article

Today's headlines
How France could make learning French easier
How learning French could be so much easier. Photo: Shutterstock

How France could make learning French easier

Let's imagine just for a moment that France decided it was time to make learning French easier for Anglos, in a bid to get the world speaking their language. What could the language guardians at the Académie Français do to make it simpler for us? Here's ten ideas. READ  

Movie monster 'Alien Queen' moves to France
The "Queen Alien" from US movie series is shown with the Frenchman who rescued her from ruin. Photo: Philippe Merle/AFP

Movie monster 'Alien Queen' moves to France

The alien queen at the heart of the American "Alien" film saga was forgotten until being rescued by a Frenchman who restored her to all her terrifying glory. Her faithful followers are now flocking to see her in a museum in Lyon. READ  

Profile - Christophe de Margerie
Total's 'Big Moustache': Not your average oil exec
France's Christophe de Margerie, the CEO of Total, was not your average oil executive. Photo: Carl Court/AFP

Total's 'Big Moustache': Not your average oil exec

Christophe de Margerie, the French CEO of Total, who was killed in a freak plane crash in Moscow on Tuesday, stood out among top executives for his love of a joke, his big bushy moustache and the fact he spent his whole career at one company. READ  

France and Germany to draw up growth plan
German Finance Minister Wolfgang Schaeuble (L) and French Finance Minister Michel Sapin address a joint press conference in Berlin. Photo: Tobias Schwarz/AFP

France and Germany to draw up growth plan

Although France didn't persuade Germany to invest €50 billion in the eurozone's flagging economy Paris and Berlin did agree to draw up an action plan for exactly what was needed to boost growth. READ  

Burglar caught sipping bubbly during break-in
A burglar in France popped the champagne cork too early and ended up being caught red handed. Photo: Shutterstock

Burglar caught sipping bubbly during break-in

A burglar in France was so happy after breaking into a house in France he decided to crack open the bubbly and turn on the TV. But then the owners returned home. READ  

Total's French CEO killed in Moscow plane crash
Total CEO Christophe de Margerie shakes hands with Russian president Vladimir Putin. Photo: Ria Novosti/AFP

Total's French CEO killed in Moscow plane crash

The CEO of French oil company Total, Christophe de Margerie died in a plane crash at a Moscow airport after his private jet struck a snow plough on takeoff. Russian investigators said the driver of the snow plough was drunk. READ  

Calais police fire tear gas as migrants storm trucks
Police in Calais fired tear gas on Monday when hundreds of migrants tried to storm trucks. File Photo: Denis Charlet/AFP

Calais police fire tear gas as migrants storm trucks

French police on Monday fired tear gas at hundreds of migrants trying to force their way onto trucks in the northern port of Calais in a desperate bid to reach Britain. READ  

Clown panic in France: Fake joker given jail term
A fake clown was handed a suspended jail term on Friday after threatening people in northern France. Photo: Shutterstock

Clown panic in France: Fake joker given jail term

The party is over for a fake clown who received a six-month suspended jail term Monday for threatening passers-by while in full circus garb, a disturbing trend terrifying towns in northern France. READ  

France launches fresh strikes against IS in Iraq
Kurdish Peshmerga fighters hold a position at a frontline in Yangije in September. Photo: JM Lopez/AFP

France launches fresh strikes against IS in Iraq

French fighter jets have carried out a third round of air strikes against Islamic State jihadists in support of Iraqi ground forces, the defence ministry said on Monday. READ  

French GPs urged to strike over Christmas
Don't be ill over Christmas in France. Stethoscope photo: Shutterstock

French GPs urged to strike over Christmas

You might have more reason than ever not to fall sick over Christmas if you're in France this year. GPs are being urged by unions to shut up their surgeries over the Christmas period in protest against a new government health bill. READ  

RECEIVE OUR NEWSLETTER AND ALERTS
International
How a giant 'sex toy' earned an American artist a slap in Paris
National
'Unlike in the US the French don't put the blame on the poor'
Gallery
Cover up and don't be too Latin: French travel warnings for the US
Society
Macholand: The online uprising against sexism in France
Gallery
In pictures: The daily life of the 2,000 migrants in Calais
Culture
Erotic promo video earns the Musée d'Orsay our "Only in France" award
International
'I love the UK, but I could die getting there': Struggles of Calais migrants
National
Seven reasons why everyone should work in a bar in France
National
The cost of expat home comforts: How France compares to Europe
International
Why don't Calais migrants stay in France? The Local went to find out
National
What are the pros and cons of working as an au pair in France?
Society
Is France's generous welfare state about to get a little stingier?
Gallery
Extraordinary images of ordinary life in the poor Paris suburbs
Gallery
10 things expats love and loathe about life in France
National
So why don't many women in France breastfeed?
National
'Stop bashing La Belle France' - French PM tells UK press
International
UK warns Brits of 'high threat' from terrorism' in France
National
VIDEO: 'The Kama Sutra is not a dirty little text'
National
What Rome could teach Paris and vice versa
Gallery
What do foreign countries warn their citizens about when visiting France?
Gallery
IN IMAGES: Eiffel Tower opens new glass floor above Paris
Society
Is it really better to grow old in the UK and the US rather than France?
Gallery
It's that time if the year again: French sportsmen reveal (almost) all
Gallery
So what do the French find really weird about Anglos?
Travel
Paris museums to open seven days a week but unions are not happy
Culture
Caption contest: What happened when Jay Z met Sark O?
International
This explains why the French never seem to get a sense of déjà vu?
National
VIDEO: Here's a view from the Eiffel Tower you haven't seen before
Travel
Do Paris's iconic rooftops deserve Unesco World Heritage status?
Opinion
'France cannot reform, the pilots' strike showed us this'
National
'We just don’t work hard enough in France.' Is that true?
International
France has moved to beef up security in various public places
National
Hiking naked in France does not come risk-free
Culture
10 French customs that confuse Anglos
National
IN PICTURES: A look inside France's 'most notorious' prison
International
Isis urges killing of 'spiteful, dirty' French
National
Paris installs new device to stop 'love lock' craze
National
Paris cabby dies in vicious high-heel attack
National
'Paris is a sexy city, its beauty is inspiring'
Culture
Depardieu: ‘I drink 14 bottles of booze a day’
National
Top French chefs want banned bird on menu
National
VIDEO: Making of French rugby hunk calendar
National
Ten great bars in Paris only locals know about
Latest news from The Local in Austria

More news from Austria at thelocal.at

Latest news from The Local in Switzerland

More news from Switzerland at thelocal.ch

Latest news from The Local in Germany

More news from Germany at thelocal.de

Latest news from The Local in Denmark

More news from Denmark at thelocal.dk

Latest news from The Local in Spain

More news from Spain at thelocal.es

Latest news from The Local in Italy

More news from Italy at thelocal.it

Latest news from The Local in Norway

More news from Norway at thelocal.no

Latest news from The Local in Sweden

More news from Sweden at thelocal.se

656
jobs available