This section provides a brief recap of radicalized Islamic French citizens involved in terrorism. This will lead into more current events involving French citizens in the on going conflict with the Islamic State. France has an estimated 700-900 citizens that have or are participating in Syria or Iraq.
Keep in mind that the Islamic State evolved from Al Qaeda in Iraq, which became Islamic State of Iraq, then Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (Levant) and finally re-branding itself as the Islamic State in order to legitimize itself.
France has been no stranger to the world of Islamic terrorism. Early on in Operation Iraqi Freedom several French citizens had been killed or killed themselves in suicide attacks against US forces in Iraq. Abdelhalim Badjoudj carried out a suicide bombing with a car filled with explosives in an SVBIED attack on October 20, 2004. The attack took place on the airport road in Baghdad wounding two US soldiers and two Iraqi police officers. Abdelhalim’s friend, Redouane el-Hakim was identified as an insurgent killed in Fallujah after an airstrike in 2004, during the Battle of Fallujah, when a combined force of approximately 18,500 troops from the US, Iraq and UK conducted clearing operations there. Another French citizen by the name of Tarek Ouinis was killed in the Sunni Triangle during a firefight with US troops. Redouane al-Hakim’s older brother was also arrested in Syria before he could enter Iraq.
France’s Islamic terrorist ties also stretch beyond the Iraq/Syria conflict area to the Far East in Indonesia. An Islamic boarding school, Al-Mukmin (Ngruki) in Surakarta, is believed to be tied to terror incidents in Paris and Toulouse in March of 2012. Three French nationals were planning to seek refuge at that school after the attacks. One of the French nationals was Frederic C. Jean Salvi who has links to the network responsible for the shootings that took seven lives in Toulouse. One French national, Mohammed Merah, was shot dead in the Toulouse incident.
The Ngruki boarding school was founded by Abu Bakar Ba’asyir who is serving a 15 year sentence for organizing a terror camp in Aceh. The boarding school is also connected to the 2002 Bali bombing. Salvi’s terror group is suspected in two bombings in the vicinity of the Indonesian embassy in Paris. Once took place in 2004 and another took place in March 2012. According to Asianet News the attack by Salvi’s group was to warn Indonesia to stop arresting and imprisoning Muslims.
Salvi has ties to Al Ghuroba which has been active since 1999 and is a study group for Indonesian students in Pakistan, Afghanistan and other Arab countries. This connection introduced Salvi to Ba’asyir.
France’s Islamic terrorists are in Africa as well which is of significant importance to the Islamic State. Recently, Morocco arrested four French nationals suspected of connections to Islamic terrorist groups. The men were arrested in Marrakesh and Laayoune. There are many ties to France and Islamic groups in the Islamic Maghreb because many of these countries are former French colonies such as Algeria and Mali.
A former French nuclear physicist was on trial for accusations he was plotting attacks with Al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM). Adlene Hicheur was sentenced to five years after corresponding with a presumed member of AQIM by the name of Mustapha Debchi. Some of the exchanged messages were said to be encrypted.
In the recent video of the beheading of former US Army Ranger Peter Kassig, along with 18 Syrian pilots, showed two individuals that are identified as French citizens taking part in the beheadings. Each beheaded one of the pilots while the infamous “Jihadi John” beheaded Peter Kassig. One of these individuals is identified as former Normandy resident Maxime Hauchard. The second individual was a resident of Paris and identified as Abu Othman (Michael Dos Santos). Maxime Hauchard had traveled to Syria in 2013 as part of a humanitarian mission.
We have pointed out in several articles that individuals joining the jihad often travel through Turkey posing as aid workers where they slip across the border into Syria with the aid convoys and then break away to join the Islamic State. This requires some coordination to find a “fixer” which is usually done through social media. The “fixer” helps connect the wannabe jihadist up to a “sponsor” that gets them to their Islamic State destination. This “fixer” may or may not be part of the aid groups working through Turkey to deliver aid.
The French town of Lunel has had 20 or more of its citizens leave for the conflict in Syria over the past several months. Two of these citizens were recently killed in the fight for the airport in Der al-Zur. They were identified as Karim and Hamza. Karim was married and a business owner. Hamza was a young man from a devout Muslim family.
More recently, the Islamic State used suicide bombers against the Shiite militia Badr Organization (sometimes referred to as Badr Brigade) near the city of Samarra. Abu Anas al-Firansi, a French citizen, was one of the three suicide bombers used in a series of attacks.
Two French citizens were identified as participating in the execution of Syrian pilots in the Islamic State’s video release when it executed Peter Kassig.
How individuals are recruited
Many of the individuals recruited from France are engaged through either social media or through contacts at local mosques or Islamic Centers. The individuals that do the recruiting are not always a direct part of the facilities as staff, but may be there for a specific period of time, such as guest speakers, before moving to another location. This keeps them from being identified by law enforcement but also gives them sufficient time to establish contacts in an area to identify spotters. Spotters work through direct contact or social media.
The Spotters: These people are tasked with actively looking for targets for jihad or support work. They may work through social media such as Facebook, Diaspora, Twitter and the like. The Muslim slums in France are areas ripe for recruitment, however, spotters work across the social spectrum looking for disenfranchised individuals. Their specific job is to monitor as many local postings as they can.
Spotters may engage the individual or may simply monitor their posts and then pass this off to the recruiter who will eventually pass the individual off to a “fixer” that links them up with jihadist in the Turkish border area with Syria. As we have pointed out in other articles, Turkey’s border region is a major gateway for jihadists into Syria and Iraq. The spotter will identify those that posts things that are anti-Western or very pro-Islamic particularly those that mention jihad. Spotters will also search through the individual’s connections/friends to find any common links or connections to jihadists already in country to provide common ground. The spotter may use a “dummy” account, which is basically a shell account with some base information so if they lose it they don’t lose their personal information and it keeps their own personal information private from authorities.
If the spotter makes direct contact with the individual they will start out with trivial things to start building the relationship moving it towards the Islamic faith and slowly progressing it towards jihad selling the Islamic State as a “brotherhood” of the faithful fighting the injustice in the Muslim world. This could be accelerated in some cases and slower in others. The Muslim slums in France are ideal places for spotters to use social media, but spotters can also be real-time instead of online. On the downside, they lose their anonymity if they are in person spotters and run more risk of being spotted themselves. The slums are saturated with disenfranchised individuals and multiple individuals from the OIF period and present period that have been involved in the Syria/Iraq conflict area have come from these areas. There are exceptions that come from wealthier families, but many of these find their way into higher levels of the Islamic State. They may fill positions that aren’t as involved in the fighting. Some, however, do become very involved in fighting or other violent measures.
Once the spotter has identified the individual for potential recruitment the individual is developed by the actual recruiter.
The Recruiters: Once the spotter has made an assessment and contacted the recruiter with the individual’s information the recruiter will then further the assessment. The recruiter again goes through motivations the individual has for becoming involved in jihad. The recruiter will also make further assessments of the individual’s abilities and usefulness. For example if the individual has technical capabilities such as computer skills they may be developed for potential spots in Al Hayat Media Center or Al Furqan Media Foundation or the publishing house of Al-Himma Library. If they have prior military or medical skills they may be directed to the appropriate department for further assessment. The recruiter is working the same as somebody conducting a job interview would. Some of this is skill assessment, but it is also as a security measure to trip up law enforcement should they be suspected of being one. Once the recruiter is satisfied with the legitimacy of the individual as well as their potential skill sets a fixer is contacted.
The Fixer: Once the individual is well vetted by the recruiter he is then put in contact with the Fixer and travel arrangements are made. The fixer is generally located in Turkey in places like Hatay, Gaziantep or similar border areas. Sometimes the travel is set up as tourism but may also be set up through aid groups. Multiple individuals that have become involved in the Syrian conflict have traveled there in the guise of an aid worker. This has been happening since the early days of Operation Iraqi Freedom as well. Once the individual arrives in Turkey they travel to the border area. Travel is usually taking local transportation and paying cash in order to avoid being traced. Some of these individuals intend to return to France and avoiding being tracked helps prevent jihadist suspicions. Once in the specified area contact will be made in the prescribed manner set out by the fixer prior to arrival in country. The fixer will likely have security spotters to monitor the individuals approach to the meet site to see if they have been followed or have brought any sort of authorities.
Upon tendering his “bona fides” the fixer will then assist the jihadist in purchasing equipment for use in the conflict. This equipment will include any number of things such as comfort items and military type gear or weapons. There will also be some instructional time with the fixer on basic do’s and don’ts. The fixer will also explain the border crossing process and where the recruit will be going for their initial contact with the jihadists in Syria. Once this has been done the fixer will then move the individual to the particular border crossing location.
On the Syrian side of the border a small group will await the arrival of the recruit and transport them to whichever location has been designated. Once they arrive in their designated area of assignment they will be placed. Placement is done based off what was assessed in the recruitment stage, but may change once at the final destination.
The graphic below shows a flow of how the process works, but keep in mind that people can be recruited without ever having stepped foot into a mosque or an Islamic Center. Social media has greatly increased and refined the recruiting process and this is also why the Islamic State is a global problem and not just a regional problem.
In the following CNN video it talks about French jihadists joining the Islamic State in Syria:
Assessment: France has had a large Islamic immigration issue that started in the 1970’s and increased dramatically driving the population in the Islamic community to about 7-12% of the country’s entire population. This has led France to have the highest Muslim population in Western Europe. The French city of Marseille, France’s second largest city, has a 30-40% Muslim population and will likely become the first major city to have a Muslim majority. France has had a lot of strain placed on its social system by this immigration which has caused the creation of the so called Muslim slums. These slums will continue to be ripe recruiting pools for the Islamic State as well as other Islamic extremist groups including Al Qaeda, AQAP and AQIM. AQIM may get a particular boost since it has a lot of potential with those that immigrated from the Maghreb portion of Africa to France.
One of the issues that France faces in combating this problem is similar to that in the United States and other nations where individual freedoms are important to the citizens of the nation. Trying to balance free speech, individual liberties, security and other issues is difficult to put it mildly. Democracies want to maintain those freedoms, but at the same time ensure the security of their citizens without becoming an authoritarian state. The French government may want to review its own immigration policies as well as better engagement with influential imams within France to curb their rhetoric that is preached to young Muslims. This is probably one of the biggest issues because without defeating the ideology the confrontation is an endless cycle of violence.
France may also want to discourage or suspend travel to Turkey. Turkey remains one of the flood gates for foreign fighters entering the conflict. France should also be pressuring Turkey along with the United States and other nations for Turkey to do a better job at sealing its border to prevent foreign fighters from entering Syria. This has been a huge issue that the United States has attempted to do with some international support, but more weight must be brought to bear on the Turkish government which still believes the FSA is the answer to toppling Bashar al-Assad and destroying the Islamic State. The problem with that has been a large number of the FSA fighters have either defected to Islamic State, Al Nusra Front or other jihadist groups, have cooperated with them or are just not competent enough to win major battles against the stronger jihadist groups.
The problems France is facing is similar to those being experienced in many European countries. It is also happening on a smaller scale in the United States. Immigrants should conform to the nation’s to which they move not the other way around. Allow free speech, but also crackdown on those that are preaching for Muslims to join jihad. Eventually, these citizens will come back home as we’ve already seen in this article. Some of these returning citizens will likely carry out some form of an attack sometime after they return.