Interior minister: French police arrest 6 suspected jihadists aiming to join Syria's civil war

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By JAMEY KEATEN, Associated Press

PARIS (AP) — French police arrested six people Tuesday in northeastern France in a roundup of suspected jihadists who recently traveled to fight in Syria's civil war, the interior ministry said.

The sweep around dawn in Strasbourg came weeks after authorities announced a new push to prevent French militants from traveling to Syria, part of measures by many European governments to reduce the appeal of jihad.

Interior Minister Bernard Cazeneuve said the six were suspected of participating in a jihadist network, and recently traveled to Syria — though he did not provide details.

In a brief statement at his ministry, Cazeneuve said the sweep "went down perfectly" and showed "the total determination of the government to fight with all its power against terrorism and the enlisting of youths in violent radicalization." The suspects were in police custody.

Cazeneuve didn't make any reference to a news report on Europe-1 radio earlier saying that the sweep involved a police investigation of 14 young men who had told their parents they were going on vacation in December but instead went to southern Turkey and eventually to Syria.

The minister said an investigating judge is handling the case, and declined to comment further. Contacted by The Associated Press, spokespeople for the national police and the Paris prosecutor's office — which handles terrorism cases across France — said they had no further information immediately.

Last month, French authorities announced a series of tough-love measures aimed to deter youths from joining the ranks of Islamic militants in Syria, including a system for suspicious parents to alert authorities and measures to strip passports from those suspected of wanting to be foreign fighters.

The government said then that nearly 300 French people were currently in Syria, 130 were in transit and 130 others had returned home after one or more tours there. Its 3-year-old civil war has left 150,000 dead and forced millions to flee their homes. Authorities fear they could return home with fighting skills and ambitions to carry out terror attacks.

"I'm often asked what happens to people who leave to wage jihad in Syria when they return to France," Cazeneuve said in his comments Tuesday. "It's simple: They're connected with a terrorist enterprise, arrested and handed over to justice."

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