• 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)

Don't miss...X
Left Right

Your comments about this article

Today's headlines
The Local list
The best expressions in French for having sex
From sauce pans to legs of lam: The top 15 expressions in French for having sex. Photo: Shutterstock

The best expressions in French for having sex

The French language is famous for being the language of love and it's also well known for its vast array of colourful idioms and expressions. So we’ve combined the two and picked out 15 of the best French "sexpressions" for "rumpty pumpty" a la française. READ  

Netflix: Service to launch in France in September
Netflix is set to launch in France this September. Photo: Jason Merritt/AFP

Netflix: Service to launch in France in September

We knew American video streaming service Netflix was coming to France, but now we finally have a month. The launch is set for September, but rumors are still flying around online about how much the service will cost per month. READ  

Video preview
Tour de France stage 16: Pyrenees await riders
Stage 16 of the 2014 Tour de France takes the riders into the Pyrenees. Image: LeTour.fr

Tour de France stage 16: Pyrenees await riders

The Pyrenees await the riders on stage 16 of the 2014 Tour de France on Tuesday. Can anyone threaten the lead of Italian Vincenzo Nibali? Here's a video preview of the day's route. READ  

French police bust alleged jihad recruiters
Police arrested dismantled a suspected terror cell in southern France (Frank Perry/AFP)

French police bust alleged jihad recruiters

Three people suspected of recruiting fighters for the Syrian civil war and plotting 'violent acts' were arrested early on Tuesday in France. The raid comes as France tries to stem the number of its residents fighting 'holy war' abroad. READ  

France's 'most notorious' prison closes for revamp
Paris's notorious La Sante prison has closed for an overhaul. Photo: Boris Horvat/AFP

France's 'most notorious' prison closes for revamp

France’s most notorious prison, and the only one in Paris city limits, has closed its doors for a massive multi-year renovation. La Sante has held some of France’s most famous crooks, but its inhumane conditions also became part of the effort to reform France's prison system. READ  

Paris: Street fishing on Seine snares new fans
Fancy fishing in the Seine? Apparently it's not as dirty as you might think. Photo: Fred Dufour/AFP

Paris: Street fishing on Seine snares new fans

Thought the waters of the Seine were too dirty to support any living creature? Think again. Apparently it's bursting with fish and it's leading to a new waver of "street fishers". READ  

Mistral deal with Russia is 'unthinkable': Cameron
UK Prime Minister David Cameron says selling warships to Russia is "unthinkable". Photo: Sergei Supinsky/AFP

Mistral deal with Russia is 'unthinkable': Cameron

The UK Prime Minister David Cameron has upped the pressure on France to pull out of its €1.2 billion deal with Russia to sell two warships, saying pressing ahead with the contract would be “unthinkable” in Britain after the downing of flight MH17. READ  

Hollande calls for end to Gaza suffering
French President François Hollande is calling for urgent action to stop the Gaza bloodshed. Photo: Alain Jocard/AFP

Hollande calls for end to Gaza suffering

French President François Hollande called on Monday for "everything" possible to be done in order to stop the civilian suffering in Gaza due to an Israeli bombing campaign and ground attack. READ  

Opinion - Banning protests
'France's protest ban will only lead to more trouble'
Freedom must prevail - the government must allow pro-Palestinian demonstrations to take place. Photo: AFP

'France's protest ban will only lead to more trouble'

After three banned pro-Palestinian protests ended in full scale riots, the French government must now decide whether to allow another demo to go ahead on Saturday. The head of the French League of Human Rights tells The Local it would be major mistake to ban it. READ  

Frenchwoman stung with €500 fine for feeding cats
A Frenchwoman was slapped with a stiff fine for feeding cats that weren't hers. Photo: Bev Goodwin/Flickr

Frenchwoman stung with €500 fine for feeding cats

An elderly Frenchwoman insisted this week's she's no criminal after being hit with a €500 fine for feeding the stray cats in her neighborhood. The court, which adhered to the strict rules of French law surrounding feeding stray animals, clearly saw it differently. READ  

RECEIVE OUR NEWSLETTER AND ALERTS
Gallery
Forget 'faire l'amour', here's 15 top French expressions for having sex
National
Report - 'Anti-Semitic' riots in France: 'We may leave for Israel'
National
IN IMAGES: Two Paris anti-Israel demos descend into violence
National
Paris Plages: Here's 10 reasons to head down to the city beach
International
'Mont Blanc is like Disneyland. It's time to end the free-for-all'
Travel
Fancy climbing Mont Blanc? Here's 10 reasons to think twice about it
Travel
Sun's up: Temperatures in parts of France could hit 40°C
National
Monkey slur lands ex-National Front member with hefty jail sentence
National
VIDEO: Jewish 'ultras' and anti-Israel mob in running street battle in Paris
International
Middle East crisis: 'Jews in France are stand-ins for Israeli targets'
Culture
IN PICTURES: Bastille Day fireworks mark centenary of the 'Great War'
Gallery
Looking for a weird museum in Paris? Here's 10 that are worth a visit
National
Clear your head: Eight tips for buying wine in a French supermarket
National
'Don't blame the labour market for France's unemployment woes!'
National
Job applicants in France: Be prepared to send in an anonymous CV
Sport
'I've never seen scenes like it' - Tour de France winner on the UK crowds
Sport
'Bouligans' to booze bans: Ten things you need to know about pétanque
Gallery
Driving in France: How to stay out of trouble on the roads
Travel
Ten essential free phone apps for a visit to Paris
Gallery
Like cycling? Love France? See the top ten best cycling routes in France
International
'They think beer is a vegetable': What the French really think of Germans
National
Sarkozy's dream of a 2017 comeback is not dead yet
Gallery
Ten reasons why France is better than Germany (we're not talking football)
Sponsored Article
CurrencyFair: Why it pays when making overseas transfers
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