A 17-year-old Jewish girl from Paris is the latest French teen reported to have turned to radical Islam and planned to flee to the Islamic State. The girl, who had reportedly been developing anti-Semitic feelings for some time, allegedly went as far as planning a terror attack on her parents' store, and was moments away from boarding a plane to Syria, where according to reports she hoped to join the jihadist fighters of ISIS.
In an interview given to Channel 2, in Israel, and published by the Times of Israel, French anthropologist Dounia Bouzar explained how she intervened to stop the girl, dubbed "A," from carrying out her plans. Bouzar is also the founder of the Center for the Prevention of Sectarian Abuses Linked to Islam, whose role is to prevent the sectarian indoctrination of teens and to provide support to their families.
"'A' was about to board a plane when the center intervened and convinced her to stay with her parents so that the family connection would not be severed — it is important because it can lead to even more radicalization," said Bouzar.
Sources close to the French ministry of internal affairs told VICE News that authorities were aware of the young girl's radicalization. However, the teen's alleged plans of a terror attack against her parents' store are at this time unconfirmed.
This is the latest in a string of cases that have surfaced this week of Jewish girls and boys fleeing France to swell the ranks of the Islamic State army. On October 10, it was reported that a Jewish teen joined scores of other French girls fleeing to Syria to enlist with Islamic State militants.
Four days later, Israeli newspaper Haaretz published an interview French parliamentarian Meyer Habib gave to Channel 2. Quoting sources at the Ministry of Internal Affairs and the French Secret Service, Habib claimed that a number of Jews are among the more than 1,000 French citizens to have joined the Islamic State. Habib went on to refute the idea of a growing phenomenon, stating only a handful of people had joined.
Speaking with VICE News, Gil Taïeb, vice president of the Representative Council of Jewish Institutions in France, echoed this sentiment.
"We are talking about 4 or 5 people at the most," he said. "It's a segment of the population that converted through their acquaintances. We know that a few marriages occurred between young Jewish people and Muslim extremists. These types of conversions can exist, but they are very rare. It is not causing anxiety within the [Jewish] community."
Confirmation of the fact that French Jews have left the country to wage jihad in Syria is difficult to obtain, since investigations involving ethnic or religious statistics are forbidden in France. In practice, this means that investigators can open a file on "French jihadists," but not on "converted French Jewish jihadists" or "converted French Catholic jihadists."
The French Secret Service declined to comment. However, ministerial sources informed VICE News that the French citizens recruited by the Islamic State come from varied backgrounds. Examples of radicalization can be found across all social and ethnic backgrounds, and the phenomenon is not more significant within the French Jewish community.
Karim Pakzad is a researcher at the Institute for International and Strategic Relationships and a specialist in Pakistan, Afghanistan, Iraq, and the Kurds. Speaking to VICE News, he offered some insight into the common traits of these western jihadists with their wide-ranging backgrounds.
"There are two profiles of the western fighter," he said. "There are those who are already in contact with radical Islamist networks, like French people from the projects who have traveled to Afghanistan or to tribal zones in Pakistan and who already have a militant background. The others are disenfranchised [youth], who often make contact [with jihadist movements] over the internet, often through Facebook."
According to Pakzad, French prisons are one of the main channels of radicalization. With the emergence of the Islamic State in Syria, the recruitment call has gone from strength to strength, bolstered by the Islamic State's impressive and effective suicidal ideology, he said. Recruitment for traditional jihad in Afghanistan and Pakistan has also been complicated by the disagreements between various Taliban groups, and by increased French surveillance, creating a window of opportunity for the Islamic State, he said.
"The second profile is young people who think they are fighting jihad," Pakzad added. "Daesh [the Islamic State] has understood that it needs to invest in communication. The purpose is twofold: to scare the enemy, and to pull in disenfranchised young people looking for adventure.
"Because they are oppressed by their social background, their failure in school, and their limited social circumstances, they leave to escape from these ghettos. They are different to the ideologists. This generation of young girls is after adventure. It's a rebellion against their families; a generational conflict," he said. "In the past, before Islamic movements came onto the scene, young people's thirst for adventure was preyed upon by gangs, dealers and all kinds of mafias."
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VICE News' Virgile Dall'Armellina contributed to this article.