French Police on Monday arrested at least nine people suspected of running a recruitment network that sent young men to join fighters of the Islamic State of the and Levant (ISIL) in Syria and Iraq.
Police announced nine arrests on the outskirts of Toulouse, in southwestern France, and in locations near Paris and Normandy, French media reported. The suspects are young men in their 20s, who, according to reports, allegedly deployed recruits to Syria and were planning on sending about a dozen more.
The network allegedly had ties throughout France. About 1,100 people in the country are believed to be involved with jihadist fighters, according to reports.
The arrests follow months of soul-searching by French policymakers as the country faces a growing tide of young Muslim men leaving their homes to join ISIL, which has recruited radicalized young people from around the world to fill up their ranks. More than 3,000 Western European fighters are believed to have joined the extremist group, according to Gilles de Kerchhove, the EU's counter-terrorism coordinator.
An estimated 400 French fighters are currently in Syria and Iraq with ISIL, but many of them have grown disillusioned with war and want to return. In excerpts from their letters home, they complain of difficult conditions and of being forced to perform menial tasks instead of taking up arms.
About 120 men have already returned to France, where they may face charges of “terrorism” under French law. Nearly 200 are in transit from Iraq and Syria, and 50 others have been killed. French authorities have incarcerated 76 French citizens who have returned from the front lines in Syria and Iraq and imposed travel restrictions on those suspected of preparing to join ISIL.
In November, the first French citizen convicted of joining ISIL was sentenced to seven years in prison, Le Monde reported.