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Official French Video Warns Would-be Jihadists: 'You Will Die Alone, Far From Home'

France has launched an online initiative to combat Islamic State recruitment networks as part of its recently announced anti-terror campaign.
January 28, 2015, 10:59pm
Screenshot via Stop-djihadisme.gouv.fr

Three weeks after the Paris attacks that left 17 dead, the French government has unveiled a web-based counter-terror initiative aimed at combatting online recruitment tactics employed by the Islamic State and other extremist networks.

The government website features a video debunking the myths peddled by militant recruiters and offers advice and a "toolkit" for families and acquaintances of individuals susceptible to "violent radicalization."

Christian Gravel, head of the French government's communications department and managing editor of the Stop Jihadism website, told VICE News that the campaign has been in the pipeline for some time, but "the tragic events that took place three weeks ago have forced us to focus on the ways in which the government responds to terrorist networks."

French Islamic State recruits say they would like to come home now, please. Read more here.

The #stopjihadism initiative is part of a $490 million anti-terror campaign unveiled by French prime minister Manuel Valls last week. The broader government measures will involve strengthening the country's intelligence services, creating 2,680 new jobs in the security sector, and injecting more cash into the government's anti-terror efforts, he said.

The video on the new website, titled "Ils te disent…" (in English, "They tell you") aims to debunk jihadist propaganda on the glamor of fighting and war by showing French viewers the difference between what Islamic State recruiters promise and the reality of the current situation in Iraq and Syria.

The two-minute video, which is not suitable for children under 12, begins with a shot of a computer screen, and shows someone scrolling through the Facebook pages of popular jihadist groups. A red notification pops up above the user's inbox, as he receives a message by someone offering to put him in touch with "friends who are fighting over there."

French Islamic State militants film burning passports and call for Muslims to attack Europe. Read more here.

#Stopdjihadisme : Ils te disent… via_ gouvernementFR_

Containing graphic imagery of war, crucifixions and executions, a haunting soundtrack, and taglines glorifying jihad, the video has been given the look and feel of actual jihadist propaganda found on social media.

"They tell you: sacrifice yourself by our side, you will be defending a just cause," reads text imposed over footage of a group of flag-waving, gun-toting militants. The image is followed by black and white footage of executions, accompanied by the words, "In reality: you will discover hell on earth and you will die alone, far from home."

Gravel said the government opted for a digital campaign to target a younger audience, which he said is more likely to respond to the recruitment campaigns waged by the jihadists.

"The idea behind the video was to address young people, and to explain to them what lies behind the manipulative, crude elements [of militant propaganda]," he said. "We used the keystones of propaganda to create this video… Focused all our energy on the Internet and on social media, and used the codes of this generation."

The video elicited some 150,000 views within an hour of its release.

Number of French jihadist recruits has doubled since 2013. Read more here.

The website features four sections titled: "Understanding the terrorist threat," "Government action," "Mobilizing together," and "Decrypting jihadist propaganda." It also includes videos of politicians and public officials dispensing advice on how to deal with someone at risk of becoming radicalized.

There are also links to an interactive form, which family members and friends can use to flag concerning behavior with the government, and to a helpline launched back in April 2014.

Image via stop-djihadisme.gouv.fr

Mathieu Guidère, a professor at the University of Toulouse-Jean-Jaurès and author of The New Terrorists, has doubts about the efficiency of the government's new counter-propaganda strategy.

"It's an institutional communication, which targets individuals who are already opposed to the jihadist cause," he told VICE News. "It does not address young people who are thinking of leaving."

Guidère said a better strategy would have been, "to interview those involved… young people who have 'changed their minds' about leaving or who have returned, and to have them explain how they were recruited and brainwashed."

"Nothing hurts jihadists more than seeing a reformed [militant] decrypting the organization from within," he said, adding that the government did consider this approach, but that the process was "not easy."

People Are Fleeing a Small Town in the South of France to Join the Islamic State. Read more here.

France is among a number of Western countries that has seen an uptick in its citizens leaving their homes to fight with the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria.

According to French interior minister Bernard Cazeneuve, some 1,200 French nationals have left or have tried to leave the country last year, marking a 116 percent increase from 2013. Four hundred French citizens have already joined the ranks of the Islamic State or al Nusra Front — al Qaeda's Syrian arm, he said.

Some 2,500 Westerners have sought to join the Islamic State since they first began their bloodied insurgency and  declared an Islamic caliphate across vast areas of land in Iraq and Syria last summer.

Other measures recently employed by the French government to stem the flow of recruits traveling abroad includes the creation of "cyber patrols" aimed at monitoring radicalization.

A British mother reportedly left welfare behind and is now helping recruit for the Islamic State. Read more here.

Follow Mélodie Bouchaud on Twitter: @Meloboucho

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