France identifies second national in IS execution video
France on Wednesday identified a second national who appeared unmasked in a grisly Islamic State execution video and announced it was sending more jets to the region to step up air strikes.
French Defence Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian announced that six Mirage fighter jets would be sent to Jordan in December to boost air forces in their campaign against the jihadists.
He said French aircraft in Iraq had pummelled trenches used by IS fighters around the northern Iraqi city of Kirkuk on Tuesday night.
Currently France is using nine Rafale jets based in the more distant United Arab Emirates as part of a US-led international campaign to provide air support to Iraqi and Kurdish forces fighting the group.
Meanwhile, Nozad Hadi, the governor of Arbil, the capital of Iraq’s Kurdistan region, blamed IS jihadists for a suicide car bombing which left four dead on Wednesday.
As France planned to step up its campaign abroad, at home it was reeling from the news that two of its nationals were among the jihadists seen in this weekend’s IS video featuring the execution of 18 Syrian prisoners and US aid worker Peter Kassig.
IS has carried out widespread atrocities since seizing control of large parts of Iraq and Syria, executing five Western hostages and hundreds of locals.
Several of the jihadists appeared unmasked in the latest execution video and one foreigner, 22-year-old Maxime Hauchard from Normandy in northern France, was quickly identified by French prosecutors.
He is one of several young French nationals from a middle-class, atheist or Catholic background to have converted to radical Islam and gone to fight in Syria, making a profile of potential jihadists nearly impossible to pin down, experts say.
French prosecutors on Wednesday said there was “precise and consistent evidence” that a second national in the video was 22-year-old Mickael Dos Santos from an eastern Paris suburb, who goes by the name Abu Uthman.
– Some 50 French fighters killed –
Dos Santos, of Portuguese origin but born in the French riverside town of Champigny-sur-Marne, is believed to have left for Syria in the autumn of 2013.
French intelligence was made aware of him after he published an online video in October calling for “all brothers living in France” to “kill any civilian” in retaliation for air strikes carried out by Paris against IS in Iraq.
He was part of a network of radical young men in his neighbourhood, several of which have also travelled to fight in the Middle East, a government source said.
“The man concerned is known for his terrorist involvement in Syria and his violent behaviour shown on social networks,” French Prime Minister Manuel Valls said, without confirming his identity.
French authorities estimate around 1,000 nationals have taken part in the conflict, with 375 currently in the country.
Valls said “close to 50” French citizens had been killed in Iraq and Syria.
“So we know the dangers and, sadly, we are not surprised to learn that French citizens or residents of France are found at the heart of these cells and taking part in this barbarity,” he added.
– ‘Brainwashed’ –
Thousands of foreign fighters have flocked to join IS in Iraq and Syria, and experts say they are often among the most violent and brutal of the jihadists.
A British-accented militant nicknamed “Jihadi John” has been at the centre of previous IS beheading videos and appeared again in Sunday’s recording.
Other known foreign fighters are believed to have appeared in the video, including an Australian and a Dane.
A Belgian newspaper reported that one of the men featured in the video looked like Abdelmajid Gharmaoui, who is currently on trial in his absence in Belgium for membership of a jihadist group.
But authorities in Belgium said they had ruled out the presence of any Belgian nationals in the video.
French President Francois Hollande, on a visit to Australia, said the issue of foreign fighters and how they were being “brainwashed” was a major concern.
“They could be from any background, from any ethnic origin — but they can easily be brainwashed into becoming converts, and this is a very important matter,” he said.
“We must be vigilant, and we must be strong.”