More than 1,200 Europeans who joined Islamic extremists in Syria and Iraq have returned home in the past two years, an Associated Press count shows. Many have been jailed but others — absorbed into the underbelly of some of the continent’s biggest cities — have thrived with impunity.
All five Frenchmen linked to Friday’s attacks in Paris — four strapped with suicide vests and the fifth on the run — are among them, according to officials linked to the investigation, redoubling fears that the returnees form a pool of potential terror attackers. Many remain off the radar, and France’s Interior Minister Bernard Cazeneuve acknowledged Tuesday that “the majority of those who were involved in this attack were unknown to our services.”
The Belgian believed to have masterminded the Paris attacks bragged about his ability to return home from Syria, saying an ID check by police raised no flags. Two of the Frenchman responsible for the rock concert bloodbath had apparently done the same back and forth unnoticed, despite having files linking them to terrorism and Islamic radicalism.
France has the uncomfortable distinction of being Europe’s leading exporter of jihadis — nearly 1,600 out of a continental total of over 5,000, according to government figures. And despite the government’s promises after the Charlie Hebdo attacks in January to block and prevent citizens from leaving for the war zone, the pace of departures has remained essentially unchanged.
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