Relatives of French jihadists appear in anti-radicalisation ads
Tales of heartache and confusion at losing children to the jihad in Syria and Iraq are being used by the French government to combat radicalisation in new adverts launched on Wednesday.
Baptiste fights back tears as he recounts how his 17-year-old daughter left after meeting a man on a dating site, who would go on to be a spokesman for the Islamic State group (IS).
"She took a backpack, a hat, and disappeared. The world was pulled from under our feet. Our child was stolen from us," Baptiste says in one of the adverts.
He is one of several parents sharing their stories in the ads, which are being broadcast on over 20 television stations, websites and newspapers.
Hundreds of French citizens have left to fight alongside Islamic State militants in Iraq and Syria in recent years.
In the ads, the family members direct the public to a hotline set up in April 2014 to report signs of radicalisation.
More than 3,000 alerts have since been made to the hotline, 23 percent of which concern minors -- most of them girls.
Prime Minister Manuel Valls told RTL radio on Wednesday that there were more than 500 French citizens currently in Iraq and Syria.
There are also "hundreds, even thousands of youths affected by radicalisation," he said.
"It is a considerable challenge for our society that requires us to mobilise families."
France has stepped up its efforts to fight radicalisation since a series of jihadists attacks by gunmen left 17 dead in January in Paris.
The country has been named as a priority target by Islamic State militants and several other attacks have been foiled. There are fears that battle-hardened jihadists could return from Iraq or Syria primed to launch attacks on home soil.
- 'It is torture' -
The producer of the adverts, Fabienne Servan-Schreiber, said the mothers and fathers expressed the pain of those who "didn't see anything" coming, and did not understand why their children had turned to radical Islam.
Veronique, a chic Frenchwoman with curly blonde hair, tells how her 23-year-old son Quentin converted to Islam and became ever more strict in his religious practice, before eventually leaving to wage jihad to "help people".
"We tried to tell him that is not Islam, we thought he would eventually turn toward a more gentle practice," she told AFP.
Imams reached out to him but it was in vain.
"It is torture. We don't have an answer, we were caught out," said Veronique.
Along with the three parents, Jonathan also appears in the adverts talking about his 17-year-old sister who left for Syria.
"We are engaged in a very difficult battle" against terrorism, said Interior Minister Bernard Cazeneuve. "It brings with it a lot of suffering, separations, tragedies... for families who have seen one of their own turn."
The adverts are available on the government's anti-jihadist website www.stop-djihadisme.gouv.fr. which gives advice on how to spot radicalisation, and tries to point out the flaws in slick jihadist propaganda.
© 2015 AFP