Peter Allen, Telegraph (London), January 18, 2014
Two French schoolboys have travelled to Syria to become al Qaeda fighters, it emerged on Saturday.
The 15-year-olds from Toulouse are believed to be the youngest ever jihadists to emerge from a country increasingly associated with Islamic radicalism.
It comes after two British men were arrested in connection with Syria-related terror offences.
Yusuf Sawar and Mohammed Ahmed, both 21, from Handsworth, Birmingham, have been charged with planning and travelling to Syria for terrorism.
The French boys, who cannot be named for legal reasons, did not turn up for school on January 6–instead using a family credit card to fly to the Middle East.
One of the boy’s father launched an appeal for their return, saying his son had been lured into extremism on the internet.
He told La Depeche newspaper: “From the start of December, my son was brainwashed online.
“There were exchanges on Facebook, and he watched videos about the war in Syria. With his computer and on his phone, he was always on social media with his friend.”
The father said he spoke with his son on Tuesday, saying: “He said we wouldn’t hear from him for a month, if he was still alive.
“He was with al Qaeda fighters. During his last phone call to us, he was talking about the fighters as his brothers.”
Thousands of foreigners have travelled to Syria since the Arab Spring revolt against President Bashir al-Assad in 2011 turned into a full-blown civil war.
While pro-democracy campaigners originally led the uprising, it now also involves al Qaeda militia.
In his New Year press conference last week, French President Francois Hollande said some 700 Frenchmen were suspected of being in Syria.
He said the country was witnessing a wave of recruitment which had not been seen for other conflicts with ties to the Muslim world, such as Afghanistan and Iraq.
Most are young Muslims men who have been radicalised on housing estates around big cities including Paris and Marseille, but this is the first time that children have been associated with overseas jihad, or holy war.
There is very little the French can do once its nationals actually arrive in Syria, although if and when they return they will be put under police surveillance.
Mohammed Merah, a 23-year-old from a Toulouse housing estate, trained with al Qaeda fighters in Afghanistan before returning to France to shoot dead seven people, including off-duty soldiers, in 2012.
Merah was himself killed by police following the atrocities, which led to the French authorities pledging to clamp down on youthful radicalism.