The French government has announced that the number of French citizens leaving the nation to wage jihad in Syria and Iraq is up 82% in 2014, almost doubling since the beginning of the year. Officials are blaming the rise of the jihadist terror group, the Islamic State, and their use of recruiting materials targeting young men.
Bloomberg reports that the surge appear to have begun in early 2014, when the Islamic State, then still going by the name Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS), had not yet declared a “Caliphate” in the region, yet had called for extensive recruitment of young Muslim men from the West to wage jihad against President Bashar al-Assad and then-Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki, respectively governing Syria and Iraq.
According to Interior Minister Bernard Cazeneuve, there was “a considerable increase in the number of departures” from France to the Middle East in recent months. Cazeneuve told Europe 1 radio in an interview that the rise was an 82% increase in the number of recruits since the beginning of the year. That increase puts the number of jihadists in the thousands from France alone; in August, French officials already believed 900 jihadists had left for Syria or Iraq. The number includes both those who successfully made it to the Middle East and those whose attempts were thwarted.
The news of such a surge gained particular poignance in light of the French government’s positive identification of French national Maxime Hauchard as one of the executioners in the latest Islamic State video of the beheading of humanitarian aid worker Peter Kassig. It is also notable given French authorities’ efforts to prevent not just the travel of would-be jihadists, but the expansion of jihadist recruitment programs. In September, Cazeneuve announced the arrest of a Chechen man suspected of being a recruiter for the Islamic State and having specifically targeted teenage girls and aided them in booking flights to Turkey. It is common for Western Muslim radicals to fly to Turkey and then cross the border into Syria to fight.
In his interview with Europe 1 radio this week, Cazeneuve said that the Internet would also be a fertile battleground for authorities. “Terrorist groups are powerfully organized on the Internet,” he explained. “They are calling on vulnerable youths to commit to carrying out very big terrorist acts.” As France’s freedom of speech laws are significantly less expansive than those of the United States, the French government has more latitude to shut down jihadist websites and publish their owners.