A 22-year-old man suspected of acting as a recruiter for jihadist groups in Syria has been arrested at an airport in the south of France, the interior ministry said Sunday.
The man, who is said to be of Chechen origin, was stopped at the Nice airport on Saturday and taken into custody.
He is suspected of having paid in cash for a 16-year-old girl to fly to Turkey with the intention of then crossing the border to Syria, a statement by Interior Minister Bernard Cazeneuve said.
Unconvinced by the girl’s explanation that she was planning on visiting her grandmother in Istanbul, Turkish Airlines contacted French border police, who then called the security services.
When investigators rang her father, he had no idea of her plans and said the family had no relatives in Turkey.
A source close to the case said the girl’s father had “objected to her leaving the country”, while another source said the family, who live in Nice, were “taken by complete surprise” by her plans.
Further investigations later led police to the suspect, who is believed to live in France and was already known to intelligence officers.
Cazeneuve welcomed the arrest of the “alleged recruiter, whose role remains to be determined but will be explained before the judges.”
Like a number of European countries, France has expressed concern over radicalised young people leaving the country to fight in Iraq and Syria, and who could pose a risk to domestic security on their return.
According to official estimates, around 800 French nationals or residents — including several dozen women — have travelled to Syria, returned from the conflict-ridden country or plan to go there.
France unveiled a bill last month aimed stopping aspiring jihadists from travelling to Syria. It includes a ban on foreign travel of up to six months for individuals suspected of radicalisation, and gives authorities powers to temporarily confiscate and invalidate their passports.
Across the channel, police in Britain have asked the public to identify “aspiring terrorists” amid government concern over people who go to fight with extremist groups in the Middle East could return to carry out attacks on home soil.