France unveils plan to stop youths joining jihad


By Elaine Ganley, AP

PARIS–France wants to deter youths from joining the ranks of Islamist militants in Syria’s civil war, and is planning a series of tough-love measures that answer the pleas of parents and seek to protect the nation from battle-hardened returnees.

The measures announced Wednesday include a system for allowing suspicious parents, and perhaps teachers, to tip off authorities. Those suspected of wanting to become a foreign fighter will have their passport withdrawn and their name put in a European security data base.

France believes it has more of its young people joining the Syria fighting than any other European nation. But the problem — and the potential risk that those returning home could import terrorist skills and use them against the homeland — is continental in scope. The government said Wednesday that nearly 300 French people are currently in Syria, 130 are in transit and 130 others have returned home after one or more tours in Syria, where a 3-year-old civil war has left 150,000 dead and forced millions to flee their homes.

Another 25 French citizens or residents have died on the battlefield. In total, 740 people have been identified as belonging to Syrian networks.

Youths as young as 15, including girls, have left home to fight. Some have been retrieved by their parents and brought home to be criminally charged and jailed.

Interior Minister Bernard Cazeneuve said the plans include preventive measures and “repressive elements aimed at dismantling networks that expose our country to risks.”

Speaking after a Cabinet meeting that approved the plans, Cazeneuve said France had “the will to use all means to identify recruiters and suppliers of hatred on the Internet, and dismantle the networks.”

France plans to create an alert system for parents who fear their children are at risk of taking up jihad. Parents would contact the Interior Ministry, which would mobilize social services and the educational system.