French parents alone against Syria jihad recruiters

French parents alone against Syria jihad recruiters
Members of Jihadist group Hamza Abdualmuttalib train near Aleppo on July 19, 2012.

TOULOUSE, France - When Dominique Bons'timid son stopped smoking overnight and started praying frequently at his home in the southern French city of Toulouse, she alerted the authorities.

They did nothing because Nicolas was not suspected of any crime. One day last year he disappeared. Then Bons was sent a text message saying the 30-year-old had been "martyred" on Dec. 22 driving a truck bomb in the Syrian city of Homs.

He grew up in a middle class suburb to atheist parents but converted to Islam in 2009. Like his younger half-brother who died in Syria months earlier, he joined the al Qaeda splinter group, Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL).

They are among a growing number of people, an estimated 2,000 so far, who have left Europeans states to fight alongside Islamist rebels in Syria to overthrow President Bashar al-Assad. Europe's authorities are struggling to stem the flow.

Bons is angry that her efforts to alert the government to a potential problem were ignored and is also convinced that the strategy of France and other European countries of jailing those caught trying to get to Syria makes the situation worse. "It's crazy," said Bons, a retired military secretary who has set up a support group for parents of children who have been radicalized. "In jail they will be reinforced in their desire to go back to Syria... It seems like they (the government) are doing whatever they can to ensure that this continues."

In March, three men aged 21 to 26 were arrested at an airport in eastern France for sentenced to between two and six years for conspiracy to commit terrorist acts.

The population of French prisons is estimated to be up to 70 per cent Muslim. Moderate preachers employed by the state are lacking, so a void is filled by untrained imams who preach a Salafist or hardline form of Islam and hatred of the West.

Radical Islamist Mohamed Merah, who killed seven people in and around Toulouse in 2012, is thought to have sharpened some of his ideas during a stint in jail.

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