By John Irish and Chine Labbe
France believes a second French militant appears on a beheading video released by Islamic State at the weekend, government spokesman Stephane Le Foll said on Wednesday.
Officials said on Monday that one of the men shown herding prisoners to their execution was Maxime Hauchard, a Frenchman Muslim convert who left for Syria in 2013. Further analysis suggested another French citizen also took part in the video.
“It seems that there is a second Frenchman,” Le Foll told BFM TV. “We are checking his identity,” he said declining to confirm a name circulating in French media.
An official at the Paris prosecutors’ office, which is leading the investigation, said there were “strong indications” that the second man was a 22-year-old from the Parisian suburbs.
Thousands of Western volunteers have joined Islamic State, which is waging a bloody war in both Syria and Iraq. More than 1,130 French citizens are involved in jihadi cells linked to the two countries, of which 376 nationals, are in the region.
According to the prosecutor’s office, the second French suspect was also a Muslim convert, who travelled to Syria in Aug. 2013 and was known to intelligence services.
The 15-minute video posted online shows the decapitations of 18 men who Islamic State said were pilots and officers loyal to Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, as well as the severed head of US aid worker Peter Kassig.
France is part of a coalition carrying out air strikes on Islamic State and earlier this year toughened anti-terrorism laws to stop citizens going to Syria and prevent young Muslims becoming radicalised.
A report published by the CPDSI, an institute created specifically to study radicalisation linked to Islam in French society, showed on Tuesday that the majority of those that had turned to radical Islam were from middle class families, originally atheist and under 21.
Sebastien Pietrasanta, a lawmaker involved in finalising the new anti-terrorism legislation, told Reuters that only 50 percent of the 1,130 linked to IS cells were originally known to intelligence services.
“(Hauchard) is the perfect example of the phenomenon we’re facing: a small provincial village, a well integrated family with jobs, radicalised on the internet at a very young age, converts and leaves,” he said.
“It illustrates the diversity of the profile and the self-radicalisation on the internet.”