PARIS (AP) — Europe's combustible mix of experienced extremist fighters and young jihadis looking to join the fighting in Syria poses new dangers for a continent ill-equipped to trace hundreds of newly radicalized people, says a top French anti-terrorism judge.
Marc Trevidic has handled French terrorism cases since 2006, but has recused himself from investigating the Jan. 7-9 attacks that left 20 people dead, including the attackers. The victims included Trevedic's former police bodyguard, who had been assigned to protect the editor of satirical weekly Charlie Hebdo and was among the first to be killed in the attack against the newspaper.
"We have this particular situation of having plenty of young people that we don't know and veterans who are once more in action," Trevidic said in an interview with The Associated Press. The experienced extremists "are small in number" but pose other challenges to authorities, he said, because they "have a lot contacts in the web of jihadis ... they know the system well."
The attacks against Charlie Hebdo were carried out by brothers Said and Cherif Kouachi. Cherif Kouachi's ties to radical Islam date back a decade to a network dedicated to sending jihadis to fight against American forces in Iraq. He was convicted in 2008 and served time in prison. His brother, meanwhile, stayed below the radar and received paramilitary training with al-Qaida's branch in Yemen.
In prison, Cherif Kouachi struck up an acquaintance with Amedy Coulibaly, a petty criminal with a history of selling drugs but no prior links to radical Islam. On Jan. 8, Coulibaly shot a policewoman to death on the outskirts of Paris; the next day, he killed four hostages in a kosher supermarket as the Kouachi brothers holed up in a printing plant outside the city. Three days of terror ended when the three gunmen died in standoffs with security forces.
Investigators are still untangling the web of recent extremist and veteran fighters. Another man from Kouachi's old network, dubbed the "Buttes-Chaumont ring" for the Paris park where the young men trained together, went before an anti-terrorism judge on Thursday after he was expelled by Turkey. The man, Chekhou Diakhaby, was arrested there Jan. 2, the same day Coulibaly's widow left France for a journey that ultimately took her to Syria.
Diakhaby was captured by American forces in Fallujah in 2004 and was detained for seven years before returning to France in 2011. His activities since are unclear.
"These people have a lot of contact with the jihadi nexus. They have already had problems with the law, they know the system, they often have gone to training camps in the past," Trevidic said.
At their side is the new generation, largely young men aged between 15 and 30, who have become radicalized in a matter of months on the Internet. About a quarter of them are converts, according to the Paris prosecutor.
A total of 1,281 people from France are linked to jihad in Syria and Iraq, according to figures confirmed this week by the prosecutor and security officials, compared with 555 a year ago. Of those 240 have returned.
"These are people who have lost their bearings, who don't have a very deep radicalization but who jump on this occasion to make a life somewhere else and to feel important somewhere on the planet," Trevidic said.
Even if most are under surveillance when they return "we don't have the means to do anything very extensive," he said. Among those who remain in Syria and Iraq "are those who have a hatred of our society and a desire for revenge. That is a dangerous category."