PARIS - 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, the interior minister said Sunday.
In an interview with Le Journal de Dimanche weekly, Bernard Cazeneuve said: "930 French citizens or foreigners usually resident in France are today involved in jihad in Iraq and Syria." According to the minister, "350 are on the ground, including 60 women. Around 180 have left from Syria and 170 are en route for the zone."
In addition, some 230 people are looking to head to areas held by jihadists. Added to this total of 930, an estimated 36 have already died out there, said Cazeneuve.
Western governments have voiced concern about the possibility of their citizens joining Islamic State militants in Iraq and Syria and then returning home to commit atrocities.
The man who carried out the apparent beheading of British aid worker David Haines speaks with a British accent.
Cazeneuve said that some returning jihadists boast about what they have done and "say they are ready to leave again."
"Others, destroyed by the violence and atrocities they saw or participated in, say they no longer want to be involved."
"Some claim to have left on a humanitarian mission, but we have reliable information that they fought in jihadist ranks," explained the minister.
He 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.
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.
In a recent parliamentary report, France had previously estimated that 950 suspected of engaging in jihad.
Asked about Frenchman Mehdi Nemmouche, suspected of killing four people at Brussels' Jewish Museum in May, Cazeneuve said: "The perversity of the terrorist jihadist system means that you do not necessarily have to receive a mission to carry out a terrorist act."
"When people are psychologically destroyed by daily acts of extreme violence, decapitations or other acts of barbarism, all their moral values fall, all their points of reference are wiped out."