An estimated 130 radicalised French nationals or residents are in Syria fighting to overthrow the regime, France’s Interior Minister Manuel Valls (pictured) said on Thursday, a statistic he called “worrying” for French national security.
France’s interior minister revealed on Thursday that hundreds of home-grown Islamist militants were signing up to fight in Syria, and warned they could pose a security threat when they return to France.
More than 300 French nationals or residents are either currently fighting in Syria's civil war, are known to have plans to go and fight, or have recently returned from Syria, Interior Minister Manuel Valls told France's Inter radio.
Citing intelligence reports, Valls said that more than 130 French citizens or residents are currently fighting in Syria.
Most of them were young men with a delinquent past who had become radicalised, he said.
"This is a phenomenon which worries me because they represent a potential danger when they return to our soil," Valls said. "We have to be extremely attentive."
According to British defence consultancy IHS Jane's, up to 10,000 jihadists from all over the world are fighting alongside rebels in Syria as they try to overthrow President Bashar al-Assad, with the jihadis looking to replace his regime with an Islamic state.
Counter-terrorism officials fear that a chemical weapons attack near Damascus on August 21 could attract more radical Islamists to Syria, increasing the numbers of a new generation of militants capable of wreaking havoc when they return to their home countries.
At least one French national has already died fighting in Syria. A 22-year-old convert to Islam from Toulouse was killed in a clash with government forces in August.
Fears of terrorism on French soil
France, home to the largest Muslim population in Western Europe, has intensified its monitoring of Islamic radicals since al-Qaeda-inspired gunman Mohamed Merah killed seven people in and around the southwestern city of Toulouse last year.
- IS group accepts allegiance pledge made by Nigeria’s Boko Haram
- FRANCE 24 EXCLUSIVE: Confessions of a French jihadist in Syria
- ‘Civic engagement' key to deterring home-grown jihadists
- To jihad and back? The struggle to deradicalize (part 1)
- To jihad and back? The struggle to deradicalize (part 2)
- Dealing with returning jihadists: Is de-radicalisation possible?
- IS group executioner 'Jihadi John' identified as Londoner
- France seizes first passports of Syria-bound citizens
- UN to vote on sending troops to Sahel after French-US deal
- Is Londonistan calling jihadists back to the fold?
- Suspects linked to 'Cannes-Torcy' terror cell face French court
- Several Egyptian soldiers killed in double roadside bombing in Sinai
It was discovered that Merah had spent time in Pakistan and Afghanistan, and that French intelligence officials had been aware of his contacts with militants in those two countries.
Valls has previously warned that there are "several dozen, perhaps several hundred, potential Merahs in our country" and said their presence was a ticking time-bomb.
In October 2012, police shot dead the alleged ringleader of an Islamist cell suspected of carrying out a grenade attack on a Jewish grocery store near Paris the previous month.
Islamist groups threatened to mount attacks in France after the French government intervened in Mali early this year to curb advances made by Islamist groups who had seized control of the north of the country.
(FRANCE 24 with wires)
Date created : 2013-09-19