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France

Frenchman sentenced to seven years for joining jihad in Syria

© ‏AFP | The Palace of Justice in Paris

Text by FRANCE 24

Latest update : 2014-11-13

Flavien Moreau, the first French citizen to go on trial for joining up with jihadists in Syria, was sentenced to seven years in prison on Thursday by a Paris court.

Moreau received the maximum sentence requested by the prosecution at the outset of his trial on October 17.

The 27-year-old was not present in the courtroom as his sentence was read.

Moreau travelled to Syria in 2012, before French authorities finally caught up with him in January 2013.

Moreau, who is of South Korean descent and was adopted by a French family at the age of two, led a turbulent life prior to his arrest last year. While growing up, he was convicted 13 times for a range of crimes, including armed robbery and assault.

The young man later converted to Islam, eventually becoming radicalised. In 2012, he decided to travel to Syria, where he hoped to take up arms alongside jihadists.

In November of that year, Moreau finally made it to Syria. During his trial, he told the court how a smuggler in Turkey showed him a way to cross the border to Atme, a small town under the control of Islamist militants in Syria.

There he bought a Kalachnikov and ammunition.

The harsh reality of jihad

But things in Syria did not go exactly according to plan, and the young Frenchman left the country after just two weeks.

“I really struggled with not smoking,” Moreau testified before the court. “It was forbidden by the katiba [a group of Islamist militants]. I had brought Nicorette gum with me, but it wasn’t enough. So, I left my gun with my emir and I left.”

Moreau briefly returned to France, but had not yet given up on his dream of returning to Syria. He tried on several occasions to find his way back to “the land of jihad,” but because his name was now known to counter-terrorist services in Europe and North Africa, he was refused entry to a number of countries.

By this time, Moreau had also caught the attention of France’s own counter-terrorism service, which was watching him from a distance. After placing him under audio surveillance, Moreau was arrested in France in January, 2013.

'930 French citizens' fighting jihad

The concern for France is that Moreau is not an isolated case.

France’s Interior Minister Bernard Cazeneuve said in September that around 930 French citizens or residents, including at least 60 women, are either actively engaged in jihad in Iraq and Syria or are planning to go there.

France has created a law aimed at stopping aspiring jihadists from travelling, which 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.

Cazeneuve announced that “at least 70” people had been prevented from leaving after authorities received around 350 alerts about possible jihadists.

This included around 80 minors and 150 women.

Global problem

A report by the UN security council, obtained by Britain’s Guardian newspaper, stated that 15,000 people have travelled to Syria and Iraq to fight alongside the organisation calling itself Islamic State (IS) and similar extremist groups. They come from more than 80 countries, the report states, “including a tail of countries that have not previously faced challenges relating to al-Qaeda”.

The UN report put the IS group's recruitment success down to its "cosmopolitan embrace" of modern media and social networking.

"Some of their adverts have pretty much copied 'Call of Duty' [computer game] to recruit that sort of age group, they're looking at young impressionable men," Simon Palombi, terrorism expert at think-tank Chatham House told AFP.

But the reality of warfare could see the tactic backfire, said the experts.

Some recruits are trying to return home "because of disillusionment, because they have witnessed horrific events," said Saltman.

The UN warned that more nations than ever face the problem of dealing with fighters returning from the battle zone.

According to Erin Marie Saltman, senior researcher at counter-extremism think tank Quilliam, returning fighters must be put through deradicalisation programmes and security forces will need to utilise all of their powers to lower the risk of attacks in the home country.

France is taking part in the military action against IS fighters in Iraq as part of a coalition formed by Washington.

Date created : 2014-11-13

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