Militant groups have recruited dozens of former French soldiers, a troubling new report revealed less than three months after a terrorist attack by a staff member at police headquarters in Paris shocked the nation.
More than a third of the ex-servicemen are converts to the Wahhabi Islam promoted by Saudi Arabia and groups like Daesh (ISIL or ISIS) and nearly half served in the elite Foreign Legion, parachute, commando or marine units where they acquired expertise in combat and handling weapons and explosives.
The conservative newspaper Le Figaro published excerpts on Wednesday from the forthcoming report by the Center for the Analysis of Terrorism, a Paris-based think tank. The report said the French Army “constitutes a strategic recruitment target for terrorist groups… and former soldiers represent tremendous assets for these groups”.
The report, “Soldiers and Jihad”, profiles 23 ex-servicemen “identified within terrorist organizations [mainly Daesh] or implicated in plotting terrorist attacks”. An earlier parliamentary report noted that about 30 former servicemen have joined terrorist groups since 2012.
Several former Legionnaires have been arrested over terrorist plots in France, and ex-paratroopers or commandos have become leaders of Daesh combat units in Syria or Iraq. Others who stayed in France have been involved in planning attacks against soldiers or military sites.
“Some of the ex-servicemen became radicalized after they joined the French Army, while others started becoming radicalized after they left the army”, the report added.
“However, some were planning to go and join jihadist groups before being recruited by the French Armed Forces,” it stated.
One such fighter is named Boris V., from Charente, in southwestern France, who became an air commando specifically to learn skills that would be useful to a terrorist group. He took the nom de guerre of “Younous the Deserter” and was killed near Aleppo, Syria, in 2016. Frédéric R., a former legionnaire in his sixties who converted to radical Wahhabi Islam, was also arrested last month.
French military intelligence announced that efforts to detect and prevent radicalization were stepped up earlier this year and “several cases showing low-level signs” were currently being monitored. In October, a radicalized police employee stabbed four people to death at police headquarters in Paris, supposedly one of France’s most secure buildings.
Thibault de Montbrial, a former paratrooper and head of the Centre for Internal Security Studies, another think tank, told The Telegraph, “The issue of detecting people likely to become radicalized while serving [in the armed forces] is capital. Even if the army is a formidable institution for integration and cohesion, the risk is real.”