A number of French Jews have left France to join the Islamic State in Syria, a French official said Monday.
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.
“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.
“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 was a resident of Paris and possibly met her contacts at a center against radicalization.
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.
The Friday report on the missing women and girls focused on two teenage girls who have made the journey to Syria in recent months, Sahra and Nora. Neither had ever set foot on an airplane before. Yet both journeys were planned with the precision of a seasoned traveler and expert in deception, from Sahra’s ticket for the March 11 Marseille-Istanbul flight to Nora’s secret Facebook account and overnight crash pad in Paris, the report noted.
Sahra and Nora are among some 100 girls and young women from France who have left to join jihad in Syria, up from just a handful 18 months ago, when the trip was not even on Europe’s security radar, French officials said. They come from all walks of life — first- and second-generation immigrants from Muslim countries, white French backgrounds, and even a Jewish girl, according to the security official.
These departures are less the whims of adolescents and more the highly organized conclusions of months of legwork by networks that specifically target young people in search of an identity, according to families, lawyers and security officials. These mostly online networks recruit girls to serve as wives, babysitters and housekeepers for jihadis, with the aim of planting multi-generational roots for an Islamic caliphate.
Girls are also coming from elsewhere in Europe, including between 20 and 50 from Britain. However, the 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.