At least 1,430 of the just over 3,000 known European jihadists who have traveled to Syria and Iraq to fight on behalf of the Islamic State group are French, according to a report by the French Senate released on Wednesday. French intelligence services were monitoring another 1,570 French nationals suspected of having some level of involvement with Syrian networks, according to Agence France-Presse.
Around 200 of those who have traveled to Islamic State group-held territory have returned to France, a troubling figure for the French, who are still reeling from January’s IS- and al Qaeda-inspired terror attacks, which left 17 dead in Paris. The four-person terror cell that executed the attacks on the Charlie Hebdo magazine offices and a kosher market between Jan. 7 and 9 had some ties to the Islamic State group through Amedy Coulibaly, the alleged mastermind of the attacks who claimed to be “fighting for the Islamic State.” One of the other attackers trained with al Qaeda in Yemen.
The number of French nationals who have traveled to Islamic State group-held territory rose from the 1,200 who were said to be with the terror group in January, according to King’s College’s International Center for the Study of Radicalization and Political Violence, despite French initiatives to stop its citizens from getting to Iraq and Syria to fight for IS. In January, only Russia, Tunisia, Saudi Arabia and Jordan had more of their nationals fighting for the Islamic State group. At the time, French jihadists in Syria and Iraq outnumbered British and German jihadists by 2 to 1.
Last month, the French government cut the welfare benefits of 290 people who left to fight with the radical Islamist group. At least 152 French radicals are in French prisons, although authorities are concerned that they may actually connect with other radicals and step up their activities upon release. To fight this, 60 more Muslim chaplains were hired to work with them.