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World

France Shocked That Frenchman Is A Knife-Wielding ISIS Militant

RENEE MONTAGNE, HOST:

Western nations have one more reason to be appalled by a video from the group called ISIS. The video shows an American hostage who's been beheaded and a mass beheading of Syrian soldiers. The shock is compounded because of the identities of the killers. Some weren't covering their faces, and they've been identified as Europeans. They're recruits to extremist groups. NPR's Eleanor Beardsley reports from Paris.

(SOUNDBITE OF NEWS REPORT)

UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN: (Speaking French).

ELEANOR BEARDSLEY, BYLINE: The grim discovery that a young Frenchman has become an executioner for ISIS has shocked the nation, even more so because 22-year-old Maxime Hauchard was not the son of Muslim immigrants. He had a traditional, Catholic upbringing in a small town in Normandy. Paris prosecutor Francois Molins confirmed Hauchard was indeed one of the knife-wielding militants standing behind the victims in the video distributed by the so-called Islamic State.

FRANCOIS MOLINS: (Speaking French).

BEARDSLEY: Molins said Hauchard had left France in 2013 to join militants fighting in Syria and that he had been on the radar of French intelligence for three years. Molins said the number of French jihad suspects has jumped from a couple dozen two years ago to more than 1,300 today, an increase of more than 200 percent. Thibault de Montbrial is a terrorism expert in Paris. [Post Broadcast Correction: In this story, we incorrectly say that the number of French “jihad suspects” has increased more than 200 percent in the past two years. In fact, according to Paris prosecutor Francois Molins the increase is closer to 5,400 percent. ]

THIBAULT DE MONTBRIAL: (Through translator) This phenomenon we're observing of a huge increase of French people going to fight in Syria is completely shocking. And that's why everyone is so emotional. It won't be long before we have serious terrorist acts in France. We're starting to open our eyes to it, but we have to look at this problem in a whole new way.

BEARDSLEY: Countries such as Britain, Germany and Belgium are dealing with the same problem. Hauchard converted to Islam at 16 by watching videos on the Internet. Last July he gave an interview over Skype with a French television news network. Excerpts of that conversation have been playing nonstop.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

MAXIME HAUCHARD: (Speaking French).

BEARDSLEY: In the interview, Hauchard says he got to Syria easily and cheaply. And once there, he was taken under the wing of the Islamists in a training camp. No one helped me to go, he says. I went on my own. Everyone imagines there's some big guru in charge, but there's not. It's sort of like a vacation here, says Hauchard. And we all can't wait to die and become martyrs. Officials say there may be a second Frenchman executioner in the ISIS video. A British man says he also recognizes his son as one of the executioners. Eleanor Beardsley, NPR News, Paris. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Corrected: November 18, 2014 at 12:00 AM EST
We incorrecty say that the number of French "jihad suspects" has increased more than 200 percent in the past two years. In fact, according to Paris prosecutor Francois Molins the increase is closer to 5,400 percent.