Paris on Monday confirmed that French national Maxime Hauchard, 22, was one of two suspected Frenchmen who featured as executioners in the Islamic State (IS) group’s video of the beheading of US aid worker Abdul-Rahman Kassig.
Paris prosecutor François Molins identified Hauchard as one of the executioners in an Islamic State group (also known as ISIS or ISIL) video released Sunday featuring the beheadings of US aid worker Kassig and a group of captured Syrian soldiers.
Molins said another Frenchman may be among the fighters in the video, but that it was too early to know for certain. He noted that an arrest warrant for this second suspected jihadist was obtained in October 2013.
"Considering some elements of resemblance, it could be a young convert born in 1992 who left to join the Islamic State ranks in August 2013," Molins said.
Facts still unclear
The confirmation came hours after French Interior Minister Bernard Cazeneuve told reporters there was a “strong probability that a French national participated in this heinous crime”.
US President Barack Obama has confirmed the slaying of Kassig, who was known as Peter Kassig before he converted to Islam. A former US Army Ranger, Kassig founded a humanitarian agency to help Syrians affected by the civil war. He was captured in October 2013 while travelling to Deir Ezzour in eastern Syria.
The official French confirmation of Hauchard’s identity came as British intelligence services were trying to establish the identity of another IS militant featured in the almost 16-minute video.
Earlier Monday, The Daily Mail quoted British national Ahmed Muthana as saying one of the jihadists in the video “looks like my son”.
The senior Muthana however later denied his son was in the line-up of jihadists.
Unmasked, multi-ethnic jihadists
In a break from previous beheading videos, the latest video of Kassig’s execution featured unmasked IS jihadists, including militants of non-Arab ethnicity.
In the grisly video, jihadists are shown marching the captive Syrian soldiers past a box of combat daggers, which are picked by the militants as they march past with their prisoners. The hostages are then forced to kneel in a line and decapitated. The high-definition video includes close-ups of the extremists.
According to Wassim Nasr, FRANCE 24’s expert on jihadist movements, the motive behind the Islamic State group’s unusually brazen display of faces was “to show the world that they have many ethnicities among their fighters. We see people from Asia, we see Europeans, Arabs, and their aim is to show they don’t believe in ethnicities and nationalities and that their banner is Islam”.
Hauchard first made headlines in France in July after giving an extended interview to France’s BFM TV news channel. At that time, the 22-year-old native of the northern French region of Normandy said he had easily travelled to Syria in the summer of 2013.
He was recognised shortly after the video was released on Sunday.
An atypical French jihadist
A recent convert to Islam, Hauchard was radicalised on the Internet before converting at 17.
In October 2012, Hauchard traveled to Mauritania, an impoverished West African nation, for religious training before returning to France seven months later. In August 2013, he left for Syria to join the jihad. In his interview with BFM, Hauchard said it was very easy to get into Syria.
By that time, the young Frenchman had grown a long beard and was known as Abu Abdallah al-Faransi (“the Frenchman” in Arabic).
The news of Hauchard’s involvement in the latest IS group execution has shocked residents of Bosc-Roger-en-Roumois, a village in France’s Normandy region.
“He did not go to do harm," a neighbour, René Bret, told the AFP. "He was a nice boy who never caused problems. They must have drugged him," added René's wife, Jeannine.
“He has an atypical profile; everyone who knew him in France remembers him as a kind young man,” said BFM TV journalist Julien Martin.
Date created : 2014-11-17