At least 50 French citizens ‘waging jihad in Syria’
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A leading French anti-terror judge has told French media he is worried about the implication of large numbers of French Muslims heading to Syria to fight a holy war against the Damascus regime.
As many as 80 French citizens are fighting with rebel groups in Syria, according to a report in French daily Le Figaro published Wednesday.
The number is far higher than the “handful” said by French Interior Minister Manuel Valls to be operating alongside Islamists in Mali, or the estimated number of Frenchmen who went to Bosnia, Iraq or Afghanistan to wage “jihad”, or Muslim holy war.
Le Figaro quoted two such fighters. One, named only as Djamel, said he was fighting the “infamy” of the Bashar al Assad regime in a conflict that the United Nations estimates has claimed more than 70,000 lives in two years.
The second, Abdel Rahman Ayachi, had “returned to the land of his ancestors to spread Islam ahead of the anticipated collapse of the [Assad] regime,” the newspaper said.
Leading French anti-terrorism Judge Marc Trévidic told Le Figaro that the presence of so many French jihadists in Syria presents an uncomfortable paradox for the authorities in France, which was the first western country to recognise Syria’s rebel council as the country’s legitimate interlocutors.
While French Islamists caught fighting in Mali against their own countrymen provoked outrage and condemnation, those waging battle in a war officially supported by France are doing so in a particularly grey area.
Syria, Trévidic explained, was a straightforward destination for French jihadists. There are no visa requirements to enter neighbouring Turkey, where it is easy to find Syrian contacts and then cross a porous border.
“No one is trying to stop them going into Syria,” Trévidic said, referring to their fight as an “authorised jihad”, a term borrowed from France’s chief diplomat Laurent Fabius. “Things are not at all clear."
“It’s particularly complicated to qualify their adventures in Syria as acts of terrorism,” Trévidic added, hinting that trained and experienced jihadists could become a dangerous problem for the authorities once back in France.
“Let’s not be fooled. A good proportion of them are going there in the hope of helping establish a radical Islamic state. The actual terrorism will begin just as soon as the Assad regime is defeated.”
French-Belgian jihadist Abdel Rahman Ayachi told Le Figaro: “I am fighting to see the Assad regime destroyed, and also to help found an Islamic state. But don’t worry; once this is done I have no intention of coming back to France or Belgium.”