France - Syria - Iraq

Former French soldiers fighting with Islamic State, minister confirms

About 10 former French soldiers are fighting in jihadist ranks in Iraq and Syria, most of them with the Islamic State (IS) armed group, RFI has discovered. Defence Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian on Thursday confirmed the report, insisting that military intelligence is watching out for Islamist radicalism in the armed forces.

Members of the Al-Qaeda-affiliated al-Nusra Front in Deir Ezzor last year
Members of the Al-Qaeda-affiliated al-Nusra Front in Deir Ezzor last year Reuters/Khalil Ashawi

“There are former soldiers as there are former members of other professionals [in jihadist groups],” Le Drian told RTL radio on Thursday, but he refused to give further details because “the fight against terrorism requires a minimum of secrecy”.

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“We have internal services in the French army that monitor very closely potential risks from certain elements,” Le Drian went on. “We know, we monitor and we act.”

This week RFI’s David Thomson revealed that about 10 former French armed forces members, all in their 20s, are fighting alongside Islamist groups in Iraq and Syria, most of them with IS.

One of them is the commander of a group of French jihadists, whom he has trained using skills acquired in the French military, near the Syrian town of Deir Ezzor.

Some have served in the Foreign Legion, while others are former paratroopers.

One of the ex-paras served in the elite First Regiment, stationed at Bayonne in the south-west, and received specialised commando training, according to L’Opinion magazine.

Apart from the fact that the army provides specialised training in explosives and weaponry, the military may be concerned that a jihadist still in the military could attack his fellows, as happened at the US military base of Fort Hood in 2009.

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