Tuesday, July 29, 2014

Stories of homegrown jihadists are becoming tragically familiar in France

A French citizen who had converted to Islam, Nicolas Bons, 30, died as a suicide bomber, fighting for the jihadi cause near Homs, Syria
writes Sylvie Kaufmann in Commentary.
A few months earlier, his half brother, Jean-Daniel, 22, had also been killed in Syria. The two had traveled together to Syria from Toulouse.

Once there, they became poster boys for foreign jihad. They even posted a video on YouTube, calling on their “brothers” in France to join them.

[Their mother, Dominique] Bons, herself an atheist, had watched helplessly as Nicolas changed his lifestyle, turning away from friends, drinking, dancing, dating. But when he sent a message from Syria, she was at a loss to understand.

“To convert to Islam, O.K., maybe this is not so serious,” she told the television channel France 2. “But Syria, that was a big shock.”

Stories of homegrown jihadists are becoming tragically familiar this year in France. A month after Nicolas’s death, also in Toulouse, two teenagers (whose names have not been released as they are minors), left one morning apparently to go to school; instead, they went to the airport and boarded a plane to Istanbul.

 … Foreign fighters in Syria come from all over Europe, but the French have provided the biggest group. French journalists held since last year in the infamous “factory of hostages” area near Aleppo, and released in April, were dismayed to discover that some of their hooded guards were, in fact, their countrymen.

This is not happening in faraway Waziristan. This new jihad is just on the other side of the Mediterranean. European Union citizens don’t even need a visa to go to Turkey, bordering Syria.

Who are these young men and, in some cases, women? What drives them? The days of Al Qaeda cells, of groups formed in radical mosques, easily monitored by police, are gone, experts say. This is the era of “lone wolves” — self-radicalized or radicalized in prison, brainwashed with videos of violence and martyrdom circulated on the Internet.