PARIS, April 23 (KUNA) -- French Interior Minister Bernard Cazeneuve on Wednesday outlined a comprehensive plan to prevent and/or punish nationals volunteering to fight in the so-called "Jihad" against the regime of Bashar Al-Assad in Syria.
Speaking on "France Info" radio, Cazeneuve indicated that the government would undertake measures to stop volunteers from leaving France, especially those under 18 and considered minors, and he also said there would be judicial action against volunteers returning from Syria if they have committed crimes of brutality, torture or executions.
"There are numerous French and Europeans (in Syria) so we have to be determined to fight against this phenomenon," Cazeneuve said.
Estimates from official sources put the number of French fighting in Syria at around 500, if not more. Higher-end estimates put the number of French nationals fighting with militant and Islamist extremist groups at 700.
"The number of Europeans going with Jihadist groups in Syria is ceaselessly increasing, along with brutalities, acts of barbarity, torture and crimes. All of this must stop," the Interior Minister said.
He will be presenting his plan to the French Cabinet later Wednesday and it should be adopted without opposition.
Cazeneuve said three types of measures would be put in place, beginning initially with a strategy to prevent nationals leaving for Syria in the first place. For youths and minors, authorities will work closely with families and parents of individuals who are trying to leave for Syria and parents will be strongly encouraged to alert authorities if their child is showing signs of wanting to volunteer or has already left home.
France will then put in place a special notice with security services in the Schengen "free movement" area in Europe to alert various countries to pick up the minor and prevent his arrival in Syria and stop him crossing EU borders.
This will be especially effective at airports, but with no border controls in most of Europe and also with the availability of clandestine routes, it will not stem all traffic of fighters.
The Interior Minister also remarked that passports of suspects who showing clear signs of preparing to leave for Syria could be confiscated.
"Of course we will do this," he said. "We can fully withdraw these passports as soon as there are serious presumptions of risks that threaten national security," but he remarked that authorities cannot withdraw national identity cards that allow for travel to many Schengen countries of which there are 26 in total, with 22 in the EU area alone.
The second major measure is to dismantle "Jihadist networks" and Cazeneuve said that there would be broad cooperation in Europe, principally with Britain, Germany, Austria, Italy and Spain "to kick start a very strong action with major (Internet) operators so there will no longer be video, photos and messages inciting to Jihad." Apart from seeking to stop "propaganda", France will also be tightening controls on the Internet to track networks recruiting fighters for Syria.
Thirdly, he said local authorities must be mobilised to intervene and accompany families who have a problem with a family member who is trying to get to Syria to fight.
For fighters returning from the Syrian conflict, they will be "identified" upon return and those "who have committed crimes in Syria...brutalities, acts of torture, acts of decapitation, or murder, they are liable to immediate judicial charges when they come back to France." Cazeneuve said these individuals would be charged with "associating with terrorist enterprise" and would be put away so they do not present a threat to society.
In March 2012, Mohammed Merah, a 23-year-old "French Jihadist" returning from Afghanistan, went on a killing spree and shot dead seven people, including three French soldiers and three Jewish children and their father before he was cornered and shot by anti-terrorist police in Toulouse.
Merah had been "identified" by the French Intelligence Services, who had then overlooked him in the search for the killer as he operated for weeks in the Toulouse region. French authorities are now eager to avoid another case like this and are becoming more vigilant on returning fighters. (end) jk.rk