French parents alone against Syria jihad recruiters

March 21, 2014


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 December 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 percent 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.



For Europeans, travelling to Syria is a cheap flight to Turkey and a quick trip over the border, so the problem is one faced by many countries.

Most Europeans fighting in Syria join the Nusra Front or ISIL, the two militant opposition groups that are closest to al Qaeda and considered most dangerous by the West.

French volunteers have formed a fighting brigade within the Nusra Front, radio station RFI reported, made up of more than one hundred soldiers with the main rallying point the fact they can communicate in French and not in Arabic.

Between 600 and 700 French nationals or residents are believed to have volunteered for fighting or were involved in recruitment for Syria.

As in France, many European governments take a tough line, sending suspects to jail or making it more difficult to come home. Britain has said it would consider stripping the citizenship of dual nationals who tried to return after fighting in Syria.

Bons wants to see softer touches involving therapy to stop them becoming radicalized but this is rare.

“The problem is that the government thinks all these kids are potential Merahs,” Bons said. “What’s needed is some way to treat them in advance, to do preventative work with the help of psychiatrists and experts in the problem.”

France has said it will set up a hotline for families to alert local authorities if they detect signs their children are becoming radical.



A French judge said last month when the first wave of volunteers returns home they step up recruitment and that is partly why the numbers are growing.

Bons does not know who persuaded her sons to go and fight but suspects it was through someone Nicolas met in Les Izards, the suburb where Merah spent much of his childhood, an overwhelmingly immigrant area unlike where they grew up.

Toulouse, as well as Nice, Strasbourg and Paris, are thought to be fertile recruiting grounds. Two teenagers from the city were placed under formal investigation for conspiracy to commit terrorism in late January for trying to get to Syria, and several others have been arrested.

After a video was published where Nicolas appeared clutching a Koran and Kalashnikov rifle in July 2013, calling on President Francois Hollande to convert to Islam and urging others to join the fight, Bons instantly became the face of jihadism in France. He and his brother were on the front page of several newspapers. Dominique said her son looked like a different person in the video “like someone possessed”, whereas before he had been timid.



Bons said despite alerting the authorities of her concerns, she has had very little help from the state.

After Nicolas left for Syria in early 2013, Bons wrote to Hollande asking for help to bring him home. The presidency told her it had transferred her request to the interior and justice ministries, but no action was taken.

“At this point, as a parent, you are totally on your own, you have no idea where to turn,” she said.

French Interior Minister Manuel Valls said in January that the government planned to set up a hotline for families.

“Families must be on alert for certain behaviors,” he told parliament in January. “We’ll need to come up with ways involving local officials and mayors for these families to alert our services.”

For Bons the worst part is that it is proving difficult to bring the body back for burial in France. She says the French authorities have been unsympathetic and the situation is complex because France has broken off diplomatic relations with Syria.

A few other parents have reached out but most are ashamed. In the absence of support from the authorities, Bons and others parents have set up support groups. Hers is called “Syrien ne bouge, agissons” a play on the word “Syrian” in French which translates to “If nothing is changing, let’s act”.

In Belgium the “Concerned Parents Collective” aims to stop teens leaving the country. In the eastern French town of Strasbourg a loose-knit group of moderate Muslim associations protested in January under the banner “Hands off our children”.

As part of its counter-terrorism strategy, Britain runs a program called “Channel”, which is designed to provide support to “individuals vulnerable to recruitment by violent extremists”, involving police, schools, social workers and other figures from local communities.

Other non-governmental community organizations, such as London-based Active Change Foundation, also run projects to deal with violent extremism and terrorist recruitment.

Bons said she had been contacted by other parents of young jihadis, including a mother in Nice and the group in Belgium. They agree that European governments needed to find better ways to fight radicalism of their children.

“The mothers are on the front line,” Bons said. “There are fathers, too, of course. But mothers will stop at nothing.”



The Army takes measures in face of the eruption of radicalism in its ranks

November 18, 2013


The Army is concerned about the outbreaks of “ideological, religious or criminal” radicalism in its ranks and has implemented a monitoring system to neutralize the suspects. “The conduct of these individuals is a weakness for the institution and may pose a threat to security,” declared a member of the Army office.


El Pais:

Young Muslims and being a student: Criticism without appeal “The things he did do not have anything to do with Islam. In doing so it causes us enormous damage”

June 14, 2013


No one comes to mind more quickly in the cause of Islam: for both institutional and foreign students in Brescia than the case of Anas El Abboubi (a recently discovered extremist living outside of Milan)


Yet, the word “Islam,” today in Brescia’s city of Vobarno, as well as in Niardo a few months ago jumped out. If for no other reason than to understand what moves a twenty year old to take the lead in extremist ideas.
And, in an attempt to give an answer, the word “discomfort”, yesterday, was the most invoked. A discomfort caused by a lack of integration seen in the classroom, where Anas was showered with insults and curses by his companions. A discomfort that he would find an outlet in Islamic radicalism and jihadism, as understood by Roberto Tottoli.

“Mah .. Even I, when I worked at the factory, I was always called Taliban or Saddam Hussein: I was certainly displeased, but I never thought to kill anyone. It occurs to me that the boy has been manipulated” says Sajad Shah of the Islamic Association Muhammadiah.

“These are isolated cases, it is true, but it should give us pause. The violence must be condemned and prosecuted, but at the same time, we must take action to prevent it: It is important that Italian institutions understand that mosques are important, because it is there that young people are educated to peaceful coexistence with civil society and to channel their energies towards true and noble ideals.” Said Meghras, the former president of the Federation of Islamic Lombardy.

Arrest made in soldier attack

A 22 year old white French convert to Islam was arrested for the recent attack against a French soldier at La Defense. Alexander D. Is suspected of having sliced the throat of a 25-year-old French soldier on parole in the suburban Parisian business district of La Défense. The soldier survived the attack and is still being treated in hospital. Surveillance footage shows the suspect making an Islamic prayer eight minutes before he attacked the soldier from behind. The state attorney of Paris, Francois Molins, considers the attacker from the city of Trappes to have been directed by religious ideology.
Alexander D. has previously been known to the police for minor delinquencies. He converted to Islam four years ago and joined the Tabligh movement, which is known to be less violent and political than other Salafi groups. Ever since his conversion he has changed his name from Alexander to Abdeillah. The case has brought the question of Islamic radicalism and ‘home-grown terrorism’ back to the forefront of French political debates.

‘The Reluctant Fundamentalist’ movie review

There’s a double meaning to the title of “The Reluctant Fundamentalist,” filmmaker Mira Nair’s great, gripping and complex drama based on the 2007 novel by Mohsin Hamid about the roots of extremism.

On a superficial level, “fundamentalist” refers to religious identity, one unfortunately most often associated with Islamic terrorism these days. And the story — about an ambitious, Pakistani-born Wall Street financial analyst who becomes disenchanted with the United States after 9/11 — certainly suggests that most obvious reading. In that interpretation, the reluctant fundamentalist is an assimilated Muslim forced into anti-American radicalism by America itself.

But the hero Changez Khan (Riz Ahmed), whom we meet at the outset as an older and wiser professor of revolutionary studies at Lahore University, isn’t quite what he appears. The other meaning of “fundamentalist” refers to Changez’s prior life in the states, where, as a young man, he was paid big bucks to fix broken companies, coolly evaluating — and, if necessary, streamlining — a business’s “fundamentals.” That means he was often in the position of having to fire people, a job that might inspire reluctance in anyone with a heart. (The name Changez Khan is a variant of Genghis Khan.)

Islamic radicalism in Belgian cities

La Libre


Following the discovery of some 70 Belgian Muslims to have departed to fight alongside the Syrian rebels, an editorial published by the Belgian newspaper La Libre brings the question of Islamic radicalism in Europe to the forefront. Lamfaluss focuses upon the Belgian urban space as a futile soil for the radicalisation of Muslims but emphasis that only a small number are affected by such influences

According to him, those who are prone to become radicals willing to take upon arms and fight elsewhere are members of Salafist networks who infiltrate mosques and prisons and belong to a generation of people who are neither home in Belgium nor their country of descent, or that of their parents.

Merah affaire reaffirms resentment in Toulouse

Following Mohamed Merah’s killing spree that caused the death of three French soldiers, three Jewish school children and a rabi on 11 March and 19 March 2012, expressions of radicalism against both Muslims and Jews  have increased in and around Toulouse. In a report published by Libération, local authorities have revealed to have dealt with a number of incidents of radical grafiti that sometimes even glorified the hate crimes of Merah.

According to local prefect Henri-Michel Comet, expressions of violence against Islam and Judaism have dramatically increased after Merah’s attack. Toulouse’s district attorney Michel Valet further states that ‘’the Merah affair was a revelation and amplifier of the behaviour of some frail people’’.

The German Interior Ministry’s Controversial Poster Campaign: Encouraging Prejudice and Paranoia

Sometimes good intentions are just not enough: a new campaign by the German interior ministry, says Robert Misik, only contributes to the widespread paranoia about “the Muslims” – and thus encourages the very radicalism it wants to fight

The German interior ministry is currently on the hunt for missing persons. In fact, quite a lot has gone missing from the country’s security services: files about a gang of neo-Nazi killers which got lost and shredded, for example. But that’s not what the ministry is looking for: the “missing” it’s looking for are called Ahmed, Hassan, Fatima and Tim. Their friends can’t seem to talk to them any more – they’ve become strange.

All four of them – the three immigrants and the young German – have in common that, in fact, they don’t exist. They’ve emerged from the fantasy of some PR-types who’ve thought up a nice public relations campaign for the ministry’s “Radicalisation Advice Centre”. What they also have in common – at least according to the brief texts on the “missing” posters – is that they have all drifted into Islamist fundamentalism; they’ve been caught in the fangs of some radical preacher and their character has suffered a deep change, so that their former friends don’t recognise them any more.

It’s not just Muslim organisations and immigrants’ associations which are up in arms about the new campaign; many people working in the integration field are also shaking their heads in disbelief: the campaign, they say, encourages prejudice and paranoia. They want it stopped.

100 Muslims protest against religious radicalism in Paris

May 4, 2012


A hundred Muslims gathered on the steps of the Opera Bastille in Paris to “say no to religious radicalism” and proclaimed their attachment to France and the values of the Republic.


With French flags on their jackets and under a banner saying “Together against fanaticism”, demonstrators observed a moment of silence in memory of “Children of Toulouse and Montauban,” victims of Mohamed Merah, responsible for seven murders in both cities in March, and who claimed, according to the Interior Minister, Claude Gueant, to have links with Al Qaeda.

Report: U.S. Mosques Ethnically-Diverse, Encourage Civic Engagement

(*WASHINGTON, D.C., 2/29/12*) — A comprehensive study of mosques and
the attitudes of mosque leaders in the United States released today
indicates that the number of American mosques increased 74 percent since
2000 and that Islamic houses of worship are ethnically-diverse
institutions led by officials who advocate positive civic engagement.

A coalition of major American Muslim and academic organizations released
the report, titled “The American Mosque 2011: Basic Characteristics of
the American Mosque, Attitudes of Mosque Leaders,”
at a news conference this morning at the National Press Club in
Washington, D.C.

The report is the first part of the larger U.S. Mosque Survey 2011 to be
published. To conduct the survey, researchers counted all mosques in
America and then conducted telephone interviews with a sample of mosque
leaders. (The study has a margin of error of plus or minus 5 percent.)

The report’s major findings include:

* *The number of mosques and mosque participants continues to show
significant growth*, from 1,209 mosques in 2000 to 2,106 in 2011.
New York and California have the largest number of mosques.
Seventy-six percent of mosques were established since 1980.
* *Mosque leaders overwhelmingly endorse Muslim involvement in
American society*. More than 98 percent of mosque leaders agree
that Muslims should be involved in American institutions and 91
percent agree that Muslims should be involved in politics.
* *The vast majority of mosque leaders do not feel that American
society is hostile to Islam. *
* *The majority of mosque leaders (56 percent) adopt a flexible
approach to interpretation of Quran and Sunnah* (the normative
practice of Islam’s Prophet Muhammad) that takes into account the
overall purposes of Islamic law and modern circumstances.
* *The vast majority (87 percent) of mosque leaders disagree that
“radicalism” is increasing among Muslim youth*. Many mosque
leaders say the real challenge for them is not radicalism and
extremism among the youth, but how to attract and keep them close
to the mosque.
* *Mosques remain an extremely diverse religious institution*. Only
a tiny minority of mosques (3 percent) have just one ethnic group
that attends that mosque. South Asians, Arab-Americans and
African-Americans remain the dominant ethnic groups, but
significant numbers of Somalis, West Africans and Iraqis now
worship at mosques nationwide.
* *The number of mosques in urban areas is decreasing, while the
number of mosques in suburban areas is increasing*. In 2011, 28
percent of mosques were located in suburbs, up from 16 percent in
* * The conversion rate per mosque has remained steady over the past
two decades*. In 2011, the average number of converts per mosque
was 15.3. In 2000 the average was 16.3 converts per mosque.
* *Shia mosques are also expanding in number*. Some 44 percent of
all Shia mosques were established in the 1990s.