In a recent crackdown on citizens bent on joining foreign jihadi forces, French police arrested two local teens, uncovering a plot to bomb a synagogue in Lyon.
Citing French sources, Newsweek reported on the arrests last week. The two suspects, young Muslim women aged 15 and 17, were indicted August 22 for conspiracy to commit terrorism.
According to a source from the French security agency the Central Directorate of Homeland Intelligence, the girls were arrested in Venissieux, a suburb of Lyon in southeastern France, and Tarbes, a town in the south, when the suicide plot to bomb the Great Synagogue of Lyon was discovered.
Although they never met in person, the teens communicated via social media. “These girls were part of a network of young Islamists who were being monitored by security services,” the unnamed security source was quoted as having said. There is growing concern over radicalization via social media and the internet, especially with the recent proliferation of jihadist videos created by the likes of ISIS.
The pair, neither the first adolescents nor the first females arrested in France on terrorism-related charges, were among 60 people investigated for criminal association with terrorist groups. France is taking a hard stance against those seeking to join foreign jihad groups, an increasingly popular position among Europeans. Thousands of European citizens have made their way to Syria to fight, but thus far, there is no unified action plan in Europe to prevent their participation.
France has a Muslim population of roughly 5 million, with some 900 people implicated in some form of participation in jihad – past, present or future. There is grave concern for the welfare of the local population upon the return of these jihadists to France.
The recent beheading of journalist James Foley by a masked man with a British accent, as well as the shooting spree by French citizen Mehdi Nemmouche in the Jewish Museum in Brussels in May, have prompted France to respond.
“Must I wait for a new Mehdi Nemmouche to fire before I act?” Interior Minister Bernard Cazeneuve said in a recent interview with the online publication Mediapart.
A proposed law, to be debated in the fall, would allow French authorities to confiscate passports from people suspected of planning to fight in Syria or Iraq. Cazeneuve insisted the law would not infringe on civil liberties.
At home in France, meanwhile, anti-Semitism is on the rise. Several pro-Palestinian rallies became violent, with one ending in a barricade of a synagogue in Paris, trapping a group Jewish worshippers inside. Another resulted in attacks on several Jewish businesses.
“Jews in France or Belgium are being killed because they are Jews,” Roger Cukierman, president of the Representative Council of French Jewish Institutions (CRIF), told Newsweek.
“Jihadism has become the new Nazism. This makes people consider leaving France,” he added.
The National Bureau of Vigilance Against Anti-Semitism (BNVCA), one of France’s leading anti-Semitism watchdogs, called on France’s interior minister to do everything in his power to protect the Jewish population, especially during the upcoming High Holy Day season.
In a statement released online, the BNVCA said, “Jewish citizens are increasingly pessimistic about their future in France.”