PARIS (AP) — Two French families are accusing their government of negligently allowing their teenagers to join extremist fighters in Syria.
Taking on the government in civil court, the families say its decision to let children travel abroad without passports or express permission from parents has put their children in danger.
At a hearing Tuesday, the lawyer for one mother said the woman's 16-year-old was permitted to travel alone to Turkey with only his national identity card. By the time she learned about his plans to leave and warned police — in the middle of the night on Dec. 28, 2013 — his flight to Istanbul had already left.
The teen was traveling with three other young men from his neighborhood in the southern city of Nice. Samia Maktouf, the woman's lawyer, said one of the young men was reported dead just a few days ago, sending all the families into a tailspin. "She has not been able to overcome her grief and sorrow," Maktouf told the panel.
The family contends that France, which is the single largest source of jihadi fighters in Western Europe, has a responsibility to prevent underage citizens from leaving and is negligently allowing them to leave for Turkey.
"It was an obligation of the agents, of the police, to ask, to worry," Maktouf said. "Turkey is no longer a tourist destination."
France changed an administrative rule in 2012 to allow minors to travel without explicit permission from parents or guardians. It cited a need to streamline unnecessary bureaucracy and officials remarked that few runaways went abroad, and even fewer stayed there.
The number of French girls and boys leaving for Syria via the Turkish frontier has risen steadily since then, as it has throughout Europe.
A lawyer for the government, Charles-Edouard Minet, said a second family has brought a similar case in France's highest administrative body.
In court on Tuesday, Minet said border police had no reason to stop the teen.
"You have here a young man who has a ticket in his name and a valid ID card and is not flagged," Minet said.