A French jihadist sentenced to seven years in prison for traveling to Syria to wage jihad told the court he eventually returned to France because he could not quit smoking, a practice banned by many jihadist groups, including the Islamic State terrorist syndicate.
28-year-old Flavien Moreau received his sentence last week for traveling to Syria and paying smugglers to connect him with radical Islamist fighters. While the BBC notes that the prosecution never proved which Islamist group Moreau joined, the defense claimed it was neither the Al Nusra Front nor the Islamic State, the biggest–though certainly not the only–violent terrorist groups currently waging war against President Bashar al-Assad in Syria.
Moreau testified that he never actually engaged in battle, though he fully intended to. The smugglers that connected him with an unidentified jihadist group also procured for him weapons that could have made him lethal on the battlefield or in urban guerrilla warfare. Ultimately, however, Moreau did not fight and returned to France, which is why the French government had the opportunity to prosecute him.
In what is an indication that Moreau could have been associated with the Islamic State, he told the court he could not fight because he could not quit smoking. According to France 24, even nicotine chewing gum could not help him:
“I really struggled with not smoking,” Moreau testified before the court. “It was forbidden by the katiba [a group of Islamist militants]. I had brought Nicorette gum with me, but it wasn’t enough. So, I left my gun with my emir and I left.”
Moreau remained in Syria for two weeks. He attempted to return, but his previous participation in jihadist activity led authorities to arrest him.
Radical Islamists of all stripes have called for public bans on smoking wherever they have established themselves. In Syria, towns controlled by the Islamic State saw smoking bans implemented as early as January of this year, when the group still called itself the Islamic State of Iraq and al-Sham and had not yet declared itself at the head of a global caliphate. By the time the Islamic State made crucial gains in Iraq this summer, the group’s publicity team began using social media to publish propaganda in which jihadists were shown burning cigarettes confiscated from conquered cities en masse.
Among the European countries struggling to contain the jihadist threat, France has a more serious problem than most. French Interior Minister Bernard Cazeneuve announced this week that officials had discovered an 82% spike in the number of individuals leaving France to attempt to enter Iraq or Syria and join the Islamic State. It is believed that up to 1,000 French citizens have joined various terrorist groups in the region.