On February 21, 2015, British media carried the story of the three London schoolgirls who flew to Turkey with the objective of travelling to Syria.

The 15-year-olds are good students and gave no reason for family or teachers to suspect that they might be drawn into nefarious activities. It transpires that one of them was communicating via Twitter with a woman active in IS.

Last October and again this month, the French newsweekly L’Obs carried an exclusive on a French girl — also 15 — named Léa (not her real name). She was communicating with IS recruiters via Facebook. They offered her a virtual husband and were working hard to get her to Syria. She planned to leave home one day after school; her passport was already in her school bag. Her atheist parents, bemused by her increasingly reclusive behaviour, checked her Facebook account and saw the conversations she had been having. They notified the security police (DGSI) who began monitoring the conversation. Léa was arrested and held in custody for two days. She now deeply regrets having been drawn in so tightly into that network. She is also afraid of repercussions.

However, the fact is that whilst the number of jihadi recruits might be small, it continues to grow. The Guardian reported findings from a United Nations report on the phenomenon from October 2014:

“Numbers since 2010 are now many times the size of the cumulative numbers of foreign terrorist fighters between 1990 and 2010 – and are growing,” says the report, produced by a security council committee that monitors al-Qaida.

The UN report did not list the 80-plus countries that it said were the source of fighters flowing fighters into Iraq and Syria. But in recent months, Isis supporters have appeared in places as unlikely as the Maldives, and its videos proudly display jihadists with Chilean-Norwegian and other diverse backgrounds.

“There are instances of foreign terrorist fighters from France, the Russian Federation and and the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland operating together,” it states. More than 500 British citizens are believed to have travelled to the region since 2011.

Le Monde provided more detail:

– 15,000 people from these 80+ different countries have joined fundamentalist groups in either Syria or Iraq.

– 1,130 of them are from France: 843 men and 243 women, among them 53 minors.

– Of these 1,130 people, 370 are currently in Syria and Iraq, including 88 women and 10 minors.

– There is no single ‘type’ involved. They can come from atheist, Christian or Muslim backgrounds. They come from poor suburbs as well as solidly middle class families (such as Léa’s). Some feel disaffected, others have a good social or scholastic background. (Furthermore, two-parent households can be affected just as much as those headed by one parent.)

– Recruiters urge their candidates to watch violent terrorist videos, some of which employ themes or elements of Hollywood films and popular video games.

– Not all those who make it to Syria or Iraq fight in the front line of terrorism. Some men — and now women — are part of the IS police force. Others work in administration. Many women are given roles involving childminding or teaching jihad to youngsters. They also become recruiters.

It is a phenomenon which should concern us. Parents really need to develop close relationships with their children and engage in conversation with them. Daily dinners around the table would make a fine start.

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