France – French security forces detained five people Tuesday and broke up a jihadi recruiting network in a small southern town that has sent several French youths to fight in Syria and Iraq, the interior minister said.
At least six young people from Lunel, a town of about 27,000, have died in Iraq and Syria in recent months, authorities have said.
In December the head of the local Muslim union, who also manages a mosque there, refused to condemn the 10 or more residents who have left Lunel to join the extremists. Instead, he charged that Hollande’s harsh rhetoric against Syrian President Bashar Assad had encouraged young people to go there to fight.
“One more network was broken up today,” Interior Minister Bernard Cazeneuve said Tuesday after the raids, pledging the country’s “total mobilization” against terrorism. He said he has ordered strengthened efforts against suspected terrorists after attacks around Paris earlier this month by three Islamic radicals that left 20 people dead, including the gunmen.
The French government says a total of 3,000 citizens have links to extremist fighters in Syria and Iraq, with important contingents among both the Islamic State group and its al-Qaida rival Nusra Front.
Cazeneuve said that there are 161 investigations under way involving 547 people implicated in terrorist networks. Of those, 154 have been detained, and 90 have been handed preliminary charges, he said.
One of the gunmen in the Paris attacks claimed allegiance to Islamic State in a posthumous video. Another had ties to a jihadi network that send Frenchmen to Iraq to fight American forces during the war, and his brother was reportedly trained by al-Qaida’s Yemen branch.