Dan Kitwood/Getty Images(LONDON) — Alarmed by the attempt by a 16-year-old French girl to travel to Turkey this weekend allegedly to join the Islamic militant army of ISIS, the French government is urging parents to call a toll-free hotline if they know of anyone they believe may be considering joining the terror group.
It was the latest attempt by Western governments to prevent their citizens from joining the jihadist group where they could be trained in terror tactics and bring those lethal strategies back home.
The French teenager was arrested Saturday in the Nice airport in the south of France as she tried to board a plane to Turkey with the alleged intention of joining ISIS in Syria. Authorities announced that several hours later, they caught a 20-year-old man who had allegedly recruited her and paid for her plane ticket. The girl’s parents reportedly had no idea about their daughter’s plans and the statement said that airport police were responsible for her arrest.
In a statement released Sunday, Interior Minister Bernard Cazeneuve called on the parents of young people to use the hotline if their children exhibit “a disturbing trend of violent radicalization.”
The hotline was established just over four months ago — well before the threat posed by ISIS was fully understood by the American public — and the Interior Ministry reports they have received almost 300 calls. A quarter of those calls were about children who were suspected of getting involved with the terrorist group and 45% were about suspicious women and girls. It is unclear how many of those calls led to arrests.
France is the Western country with the most citizens who have joined ISIS and militant fighters in Syria and Iraq. An estimated 700 French citizens have joined the cause, followed by 500 citizens of the United Kingdom who have come under similar suspicion.
Prime Minister David Cameron spoke at Parliament Monday calling for greater anti-terror legislation, including giving police the ability to seize passports at airports. He said that the measures will help address “specific gaps in our armory.”
The proposed changes come three days after the British government increased their national terror threat level from “substantial” to “severe” for the first time in three years. The “severe” threat level is the second highest in the U.K.’s threat level system, topped only by “critical” which is used to indicate that an attack is “expected imminently.”
U.S. security forces took a different approach when they realized there was a 19-year-old woman in Denver who was planning on traveling to Turkey to join a jihadist group after connecting with a 32-year-old Tunisian man.
The woman, Shannon Maureen Conley, had eight interviews with police and FBI agents over the course of the six months leading up to her arrest at Denver’s international airport on April 8 – and the charging document reveals that she repeatedly spoke about her support of jihad and how she wanted to associate with terrorists in the hope of helping them. The Justice Department confirmed on Aug. 11 that a plea deal had been reached in the case but they did not release any information about what the deal entailed.
The British push to have police take passports away from suspected jihadist fighters comes nearly two months after the Australian government began doing so.
“I’ve canceled a number of passports on the advice of intelligence agencies,” Australian Foreign Minister Julie Bishop said June 16.
An estimated 150 Australians are believed to have joined the fighting in Syria.
“We are concerned that Australians are working with them [ISIS], becoming radicalized, learning the terrorist trade, and if they come back to Australia, of course it poses a security threat,” Bishop said.
American authorities have not announced specific steps they have taken to prevent citizens from joining ISIS or other Islamic groups, though they have reported an estimated 100 or so cases of U.S. citizens leaving the country to train and fight with ISIS. Special attention is being paid to Minneapolis and St. Paul in Minnesota as nearly a dozen of the suspects have ties to the city.
The White House confirmed the death in Syria of Minnesotan Douglas McAuthur McCain, who records show was born in Chicago but was schooled in Minneapolis. An opposition group in Syria, the Free Syrian Army, claimed McCain was fighting with ISIS. The FSA also claimed another American ISIS member had been killed in recent fighting.
FBI officers have been aware of disaffected Muslim youths traveling abroad to join radical groups for years, as many Minnesotans went to fight in Somalia starting in 2007.
“In Somalia, it started as a nationalistic call… [but] we’ve now seen where some individuals perhaps are not interested or not inclined to travel to Somalia, [they] start to branch out to other hot spots around the globe, obviously Syria being among them,” Kyle Loven, the FBI’s Chief Division Counsel in Minneapolis, told ABC News.
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