Aged 26, poor and already a criminal: Who is the typical French jihadist?

A new study, the first of its kind in France, has shed some light on the typical profile of the French individuals who have become violent jihadists.

Aged 26, poor and already a criminal: Who is the typical French jihadist?
Photo: AFP

The study was carried out by Marc Hecker , the director of publications at the French Institute of International Relations (IFRI) and looked at the profiles of 137 individuals who have been convicted of terror offences related to Islamist violence or jihad in recent years.

Some 69 percent of those cases concern French nationals while 22 percent were bi-nationals. In 59 percent of cases their parents were from North Africa.

Out of the 137 cases, 131 were men and six were women.

The average age of those at the time they were charged was 26, with 90 percent of them coming from large broken families and 40 percent coming from poor backgrounds.

Of the 137 jihadists looked at by the study, some 74 percent were born Muslim while the remaining 26 percent converted during their lifetime. Although in general the study found there was a low level of religious knowledge among the individuals.

Some 47 percent of the 68 French jihadists whose education records were available left school with no qualifications while 26 percent passed their baccalaureate and 11 percent graduated from university.

Some 36 percent were unemployed at the time of arrest while another 22 percent were in low-paid unstable jobs (emploi précaire).

More than half of those charged with Islamist terror offences were in a couple (57 percent).

IFRI says the study shows “that these individuals are distinguished by a lower level of education and professional integration, a higher degree of poverty, a greater involvement in crime and a closer relationship to North and sub-Saharan Africa than the average population of France.”

Jihadists involved in recent attacks, including Radouance Lakdim the 25-year-old who killed four during a shooting rampage in and around Carcassonne on Friday March 23rd, were often known to police for having previous criminal records.

Lakdim, like many others, was known to police as a small time drug dealer before turning to violent Islamism.

And the state from the IFRI study backed up the view that many of those who end up jihadists have come from a life of crime.

Some 40 percent had already been convicted at least once of violence, theft, drug dealing, or traffic offences, while another 8 percent had been reported to the police.

The study sounded the alarm by noting that many individuals who had served sentences for terrorist related crimes went on to commit attacks on French soil after being released.

“This question is all the more pressing given that 60 individuals convicted for acts of terrorism are due to be released in the next two years,” writes the study.

In terms of the path towards radicalization the study revealed that “contrary to what is often heard, radicalization is a relatively long journey – between months and years – rather than an instant change”.

Indeed in 30 percent of the cases studied, radicalization lasted several years.

And while much previous analysis of jihadists has focussed on the internet abetting their path to radicalization, the study found that the internet alone was not enough and said most individuals were motivated by the “group effect”.

“In the judgments that we studied, many defendants knew each other for a long time, some were in the same class in college or playing football in the same club,” the study noted. 

The internet was however used to enable jihadists to meet, communicate and prepare action.


US vice president lays wreaths at site of 2015 Paris terror attacks

US Vice President Kamala Harris and French Prime Minister Jean Castex laid wreaths at a Paris cafe and France's national football stadium Saturday six years since deadly terror attacks that left 130 people dead.

US vice president lays wreaths at site of 2015 Paris terror attacks
US Vice President Kamala Harris and her husband Doug Emhoff lay flowers after ceremonies at Le Carillon bar and Le Petit Cambodge restaurant, at which 130 people were killed during the 2015 Paris terror attacks. Photo: Sarahbeth Maney/POOL/AFP

The attacks by three separate teams of Islamic State group jihadists on the night of November 13, 2015 were the worst in France since World War II.

Gunmen mowed down 129 people in front of cafes and at a concert hall in the capital, while a bus driver was killed after suicide bombers blew themselves up at the gates of the stadium in its suburbs.

Harris, wrapping up a four-day trip to France, placed a bouquet of white flowers in front of a plaque honouring the victims outside a Paris cafe.

Castex attended a minute of silence at the Stade de France football stadium, along with Paris mayor Anne Hidalgo, before laying wreaths at the sites of the other attacks inside Paris.

In front of the Bataclan concert hall, survivors and relatives of the victims listened to someone read out the names of each of the 90 people killed during a concert there six years ago.

Public commemorations of the tragedy were called off last year because of the coronavirus pandemic.

“Last year we weren’t allowed to come and we all found it really tough,” said Bruno Poncet, who made it out alive of the Bataclan.

But he said the start of a trial over the attacks in September meant that those attending the commemoration this year felt more united.

‘Overcome it all’

“We’ve really bonded thanks to the trial,” he said. “During previous commemorations, we’d spot each other from afar without really daring to speak to each other. We were really shy. But standing up in court has really changed everything.”

The marathon trial, the biggest in France’s modern legal history, is expected to last until May 2022.

Twenty defendants are facing sentences of up to life in prison, including the sole attacker who was not gunned down by police, Salah Abdeslam, a French-Moroccan national who was captured in Brussels. Six of the defendants are being tried in absentia.

Poncet said he felt it was crucial that he attend the hearings. “I can’t possibly not. It’s our lives that are being discussed in that room, and it’s important to come to support the others and to try to overcome it all.”

Survivors have taken to the witness stand to recount the horror of the attacks, but also to describe life afterwards.

Several said they had been struggling with post-traumatic stress disorder, grappling with survivor’s guilt, or even feeling alienated from the rest of society.

Saturday’s commemorations are to wrap up with a minute of silence at the Stade de France in the evening before the kick-off for a game between France and Kazakhstan.

It was during a football match between France and Germany that three suicide bombers blew themselves up in 2015.

Then-French president Francois Hollande was one of the 80,000 people in the crowd, before he was discreetly whisked away to avoid triggering mass panic.