FRANCE - SYRIA

France arrests four suspected Syria jihadists

Photo: AFP

French intelligence officers have arrested four men suspected of belonging to a jihadist network sending fighters to Syria to join the rebels battling President Bashar al-Assad's government, police sources announced on Friday.

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French police have arrested four men suspected of belonging to a militant cell sending fighters to Syria to join Islamist rebel groups battling President Bashar al-Assad's government, police sources said on Friday. 

The suspects, aged between 22 and 35, were arrested in the south-eastern Paris suburb of Vitry-sur-Seine by the DCRI internal security service following an investigation that started in mid-2012.

One 24-year-old man, suspected of organising journeys to Syria, was in touch with several "fixers" who facilitated travel between Turkey and Syria, while another previously fought with an Islamist group in Syria, the sources said.

At least two of the men went to Syria to fight for the Al-Nusra Front, which battles Assad's regime. Three of the men were born in France and one in Morocco. A woman was also arrested but released later.

A court ordered the men to be jailed temporarily pending further questioning.

'Hundreds of French involved'

Interior Minister Manuel Valls said in September that more than 100 French people had travelled to Syria to fight with rebels, though he said it was hard to determine whether they had joined the Free Syrian Army or hardline Islamist groups, some of which are linked to al Qaeda.

Highlighting legal obstacles to detaining Syrian rebel fighters on their return to France, Valls said at the time: "The difficulty is that they are going to fight a regime that we oppose ourselves. Some are fighting with official opposition groups. Others end up with jihadist groups that are listed as terrorist organisations."

An informed source said that about 440 people from France were either currently fighting in the war, were planning to go and fight, or had recently returned.

Half this number are currently in Syria, approximately 10 have been killed and between 50 and 60 returned to France, the source told AFP.

The arrests were the latest in a series in France since the start of Syria's civil war, which began as a protest movement two and a half years ago. Several prospective fighters have been charged with conspiracy to commit acts of terrorism.

(FRANCE 24 with wires)

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