PARIS (AP) — French authorities have arrested a man suspected of being one of the top recruiters of young jihadis for the civil war in Syria, the Interior Ministry said Thursday, describing him as "a particularly dangerous individual."
Mourad Fares, 30, was arrested Wednesday night at Paris' Charles de Gaulle airport, nearly a month after he was detained in Turkey — a transit country for fighters wanting to enter Syria.
Fares, from Thonon-les-Bains in the foothills of the Alps, went to Syria in July 2013, a ministry statement said. It said he had links to the predecessor of the Islamic State group, the most brutal among myriad jihadi organizations, then to the al-Qaida-linked Nusra Front.
French intelligence agencies have long suspected Fares was among those luring young French people to jihad in Syria. The ministry said his role was considered crucial in cases in Toulouse and Strasbourg.
Two Toulouse teenagers, aged 15 and 16, were arrested upon their return in January — one fetched by his father from the Syrian-Turkish border. Six youths from Strasbourg were arrested after returning home in May, part of a group of 14 reported to have left to join the jihad. The number of minors heading to Syria from France raised alarm bells with authorities early this year.
With about 5 million Muslims, the largest Muslim population in Western Europe, France has been particularly vulnerable to the growing phenomenon of citizens turning to jihad. Calls to become a fighter are often put out on social networks.
Authorities estimate about 900 people from France have been implicated in jihad in the Syria region. Authorities across the West fear the return of battle-hardened jihadis, saying the fighters have the will and skills to mount attacks at home.
New anti-terrorism legislation to combat jihadi recruitment will be debated by French lawmakers next Monday.