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Relatives of French militants feature in counter-radicalisation ads Open in fullscreen

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Relatives of French militants feature in counter-radicalisation ads

Hundreds of French citizens have already left to fight alongside Islamic State militants [Getty]

Date of publication: 11 October, 2015

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A new French government anti-extremism campaign features families of killed militants in a bid to discourage youngsters from joining extremist groups in Iraq and Syria.
"We are not the parents of a terrorist. We are victims," Baptiste begins. He is the father of a 17-year-old girl who left for Syria.

He is also one of the many parents sharing their stories in adverts being used by the French government to combat radicalisation in new adverts.

Tales of heartache and confusion at losing children to the extremism in Syria and Iraq centre the campaign, being broadcast on over 20 television stations, websites and newspapers. 

     She took a backpack, a hat, and disappeared. The world was pulled from under our feet. Our child was stolen from us
Baptiste fights back tears as he recounts how his 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.

Hundreds of French citizens have left to fight alongside Islamic State militants in Iraq and Syria in recent years.

In the adverts, 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 extremists 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 extremists could return from Iraq or Syria primed to launch attacks on home soil.

'It is torture' 

     We tried to tell him that is not Islam, we thought he would eventually turn toward a more gentle practice
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 said.

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."

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