War with Isis: A Catholic convert and a pizza delivery man reveal the disturbing face of French jihadists

Maxime Hauchard and Mickael dos Santos were identified as part of a group seen cutting the throats of 12 captured Syrian pilots on an Isis video released this week

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The Independent Online

The disturbing face of French “jihadism” has been revealed by a statistical survey and by the most recent, horrific video clip from Isis.

The “face” is French or European, rather than Arab or North African. It belongs to a young man from a loving, non-religious family who has “self-converted” to extremist Islam through the internet.

Two members of a column of killers seen cutting the throats of 12 captured Syrian pilots in the Isis video released this week were French. Both have been identified. Both are 22. Both are European.

One is Maxime Hauchard, a former cinema lover and pizza delivery man from suburban Normandy. The other is Mickael dos Santos, a French-born, once devoutly Catholic son of a Portuguese immigrant family settled near Paris.


Separately, France opened a terrorism investigation today after three unidentified French recruits to Isis – talking with southern French accents– appeared in a propaganda video. They were seen burning French passports and calling for attacks on unnamed targets in France.

At the same time, a survey published this week suggests that a great number of French jihadists come from relatively prosperous and non-Islamic backgrounds. The report, by an anti-sectarian think tank, found that the great majority of the 50 recruits studied were recent converts to Islam and ethnically French.

Almost all came from non-religious families. The great majority, over 80 per cent, come from relatively well-off backgrounds. Over 90 per cent were recruited – or had radicalised themselves – through watching videos on the internet. The survey covered only those jihadists whose families had approached the centre or agreed to be interviewed. It almost certainly undercounts French jihadists from Muslim backgrounds. Of these, 376 are believed to be fighting in Syria and Iraq. Another 49 have been killed. An estimated 213 have returned.

One historian has described Isis as "a creature of the Facebook generation" (Getty Images)

Professor Jean-Pierre Filiu, a French historian who specialises in Islam, says that the high proportion of “converts” in Isis ranks should not be a surprise. “[Isis] has nothing to do with Islam,” he said. “We insist on seeing this as a religious phenomenon but it is a political phenomenon. [Isis] is a sect which attacks other Muslims… It has an apocalyptic narrative, just like the other sects that you can find on the internet. It is a creature of the Facebook generation.”

The survey of French jihadists published this week also points to the role of “indoctrinating” sites on the internet, which appeal to psychologically vulnerable young people by imitating video games. Young people are told that they have been “chosen” to fight a “just cause”.

This analysis fits closely the profile of the two young men who appeared in the Isis video placed on line this week. Maxime Hauchard – now known as “Abu Abdahhah” or “al-Faransi” (the Frenchman) – comes from Bosc-Roger-en-Roumois, a semi-rural suburb of Rouen in Normandy.

Since his image appeared earlier this week in Isis uniform and black beret, neighbours have recalled a “gentle boy”. Five years ago, he converted to Islam and began to wear Islamic robes. He “self-converted” after visiting Islamist sites on the net.

His fellow killer Mickael dos Santos from Champigny-sur-Marne is a third generation Franco-Portuguese. He is a former student of painting and decorating. His school sweetheart “Elisabeth G”, recalled a carefree but pious young Catholic.

In 2009, he began to visit Islamic sites on the internet. Elisabeth said: “He became radical overnight. He said to me, ‘Either you convert and you leave school and wear the headscarf or we can’t see each other any more’.”