A young French Jewish girl was radicalized, became an anti-Semite, planned a terrorist attack at her parents’ shop and was a moment away from getting on a plane to join the Islamic State in Syria, a French anthropologist who runs a de-radicalization center in Paris revealed.
Dounia Bouzar, the founder of the Centre de Prévention des Dérives Sectaires liées à l’Islam (Center for the Prevention of Sectarian Abuses linked to Islam), told Channel 2 on Wednesday that she came across the case when the family of the 17-year-old Paris resident contacted her for help.
The center conducts research and works with French youth who have undergone Islamic radicalization and brainwashing. Some, she said, were well on the path to joining IS, including the young Jewish girl, whom she calls “A.”
“A” was about to board a plane when the center intervened and convinced her to stay with her parents “so that the family connection would not be severed — it is important because it can lead to even more radicalization,” said Bouzar.
She said that “A” self-radicalized, likely online, is completely covered up physically, voices extreme anti-Semitic thoughts and is convinced she is the victim of a plot against her.”
“It is a very difficult case, and we have a long way to go,” Bouzar said.
The girl was a top student, from a religious Jewish family, with open, loving parents who are “affluent merchants,” she said, adding that they came to see her several months ago after their pleas for help from various institutions went unanswered.
“They are trying to save her from this situation. Imagine their horror when they found out their daughter had plans to blow up their store,” she said.
The parents began to get suspicious when the young girl’s grades began to slip and she refused to leave the house. Bouzar said the radicalization started online and escalated when “A” contacted IS’s networks of recruiters in Paris.
“The recruiters are not leaving her alone,” said Bouzar, forcing her parents to move.
It is believed she is still in touch with them, as despite the vigilance of her parents, jihadist propaganda is consistently found in her room and on her phone, according to the report.
Bouzar said that “A” is not the typical IS recruit. For one, she is not Muslim. “Most of the young people I help are from a middle- to upper-class background like A, but the majority are from atheist homes. It’s safe to assume that the lack of spirituality in the education [of these youths] is one of the factors that leads to radicalization.”
On Monday, a French official said that a number of French Jews have left France to join the Islamic State in Syria.
“There are over 1,000 French citizens who are fighting for IS, including those with a Jewish background, according to the intelligence we have. Some converted to Islam. It’s important to note that it’s a very small minority,” the French official told Channel 2.
The official added that France was considering steps to thwart the phenomenon of citizens leaving for Syria, including revoking their citizenship. He added that the French intelligence community was making efforts to locate these persons.
“We don’t look at religion, we look at nationality… If they are French, most of them, according to the information we have, were not part of the local [Jewish community] and were living secular lives,” he said, adding that the information was still being verified.
The revelation came after a report on Friday that a Jewish girl was among some 100 girls and young women from France who left to join the jihadist fighters in Syria in recent months.
“This is a national conversation in France and we mustn’t spread rumors around until we have definitive evidence this is happening,” said Meir Habib, a French-Jewish member of parliament, according to Channel 2.
He added that the ministry of interior was trying to locate all the girls and their families, “including those of the Jewish girl.”
“I don’t understand why a Jewish girl would join IS. It’s possible she is half-Muslim,” he said, adding that if indeed a Jewish girl did go to Syria for jihadist purposes, “it is the end of the world and is a lot more complicated [than we imagine].”
A French-Jewish journalist told the channel that the girl who left to Syria was a resident of Paris and possibly met her contacts at a center against radicalization. It is unclear if it is the same center Bouzar runs.
The French Jewish community indicated that the reports were worrying. A rabbi was quoted by Channel 2 as saying the possibility existed that the rumor was false and was spread “to malign French Jews, as if we didn’t suffer enough from anti-Semitism.”
In a survey earlier this summer, 16% of French respondents said they held favorable views of the Islamic State.
Recruitment networks are particularly developed in France, which has long had a troubled relationship with its Muslim community, the largest in Europe. Distraught families plead that their girls are kidnap victims, but a proposed French law would treat them as terrorists liable to arrest upon return.