Were jihadists training in a French park?

French police are investigating reports of "apprentice jihadists" training in a French park were greeted with cries of "infidels."  France is concerned that hundreds of their citizens have gone to Syria to fight alongside the Islamic State.  

REUTERS/Christian Hartmann
Foad, the brother of 15 year-old Nora who left her home in Avignon, France, for Syria nine months ago, shows a portrait he took last September. Foad, a French truck driver of Moroccan origin, travelled alone through war-torn Syria to rescue his 15-year-old sister from an Islamist group she said was holding her captive. But when they finally stood face to face, in tears, she would not leave.

Residents in the eastern French city of Strasbourg were alarmed this week when they saw a group of “apprentice jihadists” training in a park using fake weapons, according to police.

Police were called to the scene by local residents who said they witnessed “bearded men dressed in djellabas” participating in combat practice in the park, according to The Local, an English-language digital news outlet in France.

Upon arrival officers were greeted with cries of “infidels” and the group’s leader said they were training to “avenge the deaths of their Muslim brothers” before telling police they “would burn in hell,” according to RTL Radio.

Later, a member of the group, who is a Muslim, denied they were jihadist trainees. He said it was a self-defense class and their teacher was being held.

The seven men, some with beards, according to AFP, raised alarm when they were seen acting out combat scenes with fake weapons.

“It was our first course, we hardly knew each other. We were doing some stretches, ran a few laps, practiced body placement, punch-kick combinations,” a member of the group told AFP, describing the course as “simply a self-defense course with a trainer.”

The men, who are between the ages of 30 and 45, also teamed up for a scenario in which they feigned an attack with fake guns and knives.

“This was not with the aim of going to Syria, we are far from all of that,” the member said.

The trainer was released after a case was opened against him for insulting a police officer. None of the “apprentice jihadists” were arrested and a police source described the incident as a simple “provocation,” The Local reported.

French counter-terrorism police are now handling the investigation.

The Strasbourg incident comes amid rising concern in France over homegrown jihadists, as hundreds of defectors are believed to be fighting for the Islamic State in Syria and Iraq.

Despite women in Raqqa, the caliphate’s de facto capital, suffering extreme societal repression, an increasing number of foreign women have traded their lives and families in France to join the jihad society, The Christian Science Monitor reported. Women moving to Syria to get married or join their husbands are an essential element of the propaganda and strategy of IS's fundamentalist campaign.

Dozens of teenagers – including a young Jewish girl – have fled France to join Islamic State militants fighting in Syria and Iraq, French intelligence has revealed, according to the Daily Mail.

The departures are less the whims of adolescents and more the conclusions of months of work by organised radical recruitment networks that specifically target young people in search of an identity.

These mostly online networks recruit girls to serve as wives, babysitters and housekeepers for jihadists, with the aim of planting multi-generational roots for a long-lasting Islamic caliphate.

Two teenage girls who fled their Austrian homes to join IS, described as ‘poster girls’ for the caliphate, are now desperate to return after apparently becoming disillusioned with their jihadi lifestyle.

The girls, 15-year-old Sabina Selimovic and 17-year-old Samra Kesinovic, who are both now reportedly pregnant, are among hundreds of young women who have been reportedly wooed by IS fighters to become “jihadi brides,” were persuaded to travel to Syria in April.

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