Two French teenagers from Toulouse have joined the Syrian Civil War, according to French and global media. The two are only 15 and 16 years old.
One of the teenagers, known only as Hakim, bought plane tickets to Turkey over the internet for the pair using his parents' credit card, with plans to sneak over the border into Syria and join a rebel training camp, an investigation revealed. The boys then sent anonymous notes to their school announcing that they would not be attending classes.
The boys' parents are in shock - and claim that the boys have been brainwashed by Islamist material via the internet. One of the teenagers has no known criminal record; the other was known to police. At least one of the boys doesn't even speak Arabic, according to a parent.
“From the start of December, my son was brainwashed online,” one of the teenager's fathers told French news outlet La Depeche. “There were exchanges on Facebook, videos about the war in Syria. With his computer and on his phone, he was always on social media with his friend.”
It is unclear if the boys will ever return.
“He said we wouldn't hear from him for a month, if he was still alive,” the father said. “He was with al Qaeda fighters. During his last phone call to us, he was talking about the fighters as his brothers.”
France: Another Western Country Affected by the Syrian Jihad Machine
President Francois Hollande stated earlier this month that at least 700 French citizens have joined the fighting in Syria, according to the New York Daily News. French intelligence officials noted that of those, 12 were minors - and 21 have been killed.
“Today we see a mass recruitment [for the Syrian Civil War],” an anonymous intelligence official told French daily Le Figaro. “This is like a factory.”
France is only one of the many Western countries experiencing something of a "jihadist drain," with hundreds of Western nationals joining the conflict. Since 2011, the war - which has killed over 130,000 people - has mushroomed from a regional conflict to an all-out Islamic holy war between the Middle East's Shia and Sunni populations.
Foreign nationals from around the world have been joining the fight. Canadian, American, and European fighters have made jihad videos from Syria; British Muslims, in particular, have been flocking to the war from all sectors of society.
Al Qaeda officials have been suspected of reaching out specifically to British university graduates, according a Daily Mail report last month. Some British Muslim women have also joinied the rebel forces, marrying Islamists "in the name of a global Jihad".
Western countries - especially the US and United Kingdom - have backed the rebel forces during the three year conflict.
Increasingly, however, western states have become uneasy over the growing influence of radical Islamist elements among the rebel movement. Recently, funding for some "extremist" rebel groups has been revoked, but foreign nationals - including many western citizens - continue to pour into Syria, and western security services are concerned about what this means for their own countries' future security.
The West has become so concerned, in fact, that they have reached out to Assad's regime forces over the issue - but no progress has yet been made. In the meantime, eyewitness accounts have confirmed what analysts have long suspected: that Al Qaeda is training Western nationals in the war-torn country to bring fundamentalist Islam - and terrorism - back home with them.