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French police dismantle network sending fighters to Syria

Around 3,000 Europeans are believed to have left home to fight in Syria and Iraq
Police protect the family of Maxime Hauchard, one of an estimated 1,000 French nationals who are fighting in Iraq and Syria (AFP)

French police launched raids across the country early on Monday, dismantling a network sending fighters to Syria, a police source told AFP.

Elite and anti-terror police units descended on around a dozen targets, mostly in the southern region of Toulouse, but also around Paris and in the northern region of Normandy, the source said on condition of anonymity.

It was not immediately clear how many people were arrested.

In recent months France, which has Europe's largest Muslim population, has been facing the fact that hundreds of its citizens have openly joined militant groups in Iraq and Syria and have even called for attacks on their homeland.

The new reality was driven home in a video from the Islamic State group released in mid-November, showing three Kalashnikov-wielding Frenchmen burning their passports and calling on Muslims to join them or stage attacks in France.

A grisly execution video released around the same time featured at least one French citizen who hailed from a small village in Normandy and converted to Islam in his teens.

Almost 1,000 French nationals from a wide range of backgrounds are estimated to have left to joined the fights in Iraq and Syria, including some 400 thought to be currently fighting on the ground and almost 50 who were killed.

According to figured published in the Le Monde newspaper in November, about a quarter of those who left to join the militants were converts to Islam.

Around 3,000 Europeans are believed to have left their homes to fight in the two countries, according to the European Union's anti-terrorist coordinator.

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