100 Syria, Iraq militants return to France

Foreign fighters if the Islamic State (IS/ISIS). File photo

Around 100 militants who fought with rebel groups in Syria and Iraq have returned to France, requiring “massive” resources for surveillance and other security measures to prevent attacks, a French lawmaker said on Friday.

Thousands of Western volunteers have traveled to Syria and Iraq to join Islamist fighting groups, notably Islamic State. The exodus has raised fears in Europe and the United States of attacks by returning fighters.

Of an estimated 1,000 volunteers who left from France – the top source of Western volunteers for the Islamist jihad in the region – around 100 have returned and are currently in the country, Socialist lawmaker Sebastien Pietrasanta told Reuters.

“Some of them are in jail, others are under judicial surveillance,” said Pietrasanta. “We have material evidence showing that a number of those who have returned from Syria could potentially have gone ahead to commit attacks.”

Pietrasanta is the chief spokesman for an anti-terrorism law to be debated in parliament on Monday that tightens surveillance of potential jihadi volunteers and restricts the movements of returned fighters, who could be stripped of their passports and identity papers.

Surveillance of returned fighters was taking place on a “massive scale”, said Pietrasanta.

“When you figure that it takes about 20 security agents to keep watch on one person, you get a sense of the challenge facing our security services,” he said, adding that 52 returned militants were currently in jail.

While fighters debriefed by security services sometimes said they had been disappointed by their experience in Syria – notably by infighting between Islamist groups – only one had expressed contrition for having joined the combat.

“We have one person who really regretted having left, who was traumatized by what they saw,” Pietrasanta said. “But really, you don’t have many saying, ‘I saw too many horrors, I regret having gone’.”

On Thursday, a man suspected of being one of the main recruiters of French militants for Islamic State was placed in the hands of judicial authorities in Paris.

Pietrasanta said the man, named Mourad Fares, had surrendered to French authorities because he feared for his life in Syria, having defected from Islamic State to the al Qaeda-linked Nusra Front group.

Fares, who had been in Syria since July 2013, was charged with conspiracy with a terrorist group upon his return to France from Turkey, Interior Minister Bernard Cazeneuve said.

Mehdi Nemmouche, a 29-year-old Frenchman, is suspected of having carried out a May 24 shooting at the Jewish Museum in Brussels that left four people dead after returning from Syria.


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