French militants appear with ISIL in Afghanistan

French militants appear with ISIL in Afghanistan

French militants appear with ISIL in Afghanistan

French and Algerian militants, some arriving from Syria, have joined the ranks of the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) in northern Afghanistan where the militants have established new bases, multiple international and Afghan sources have told AFP.

It is the first time that the presence of French ISIL militants has been recorded in Afghanistan, and comes as analysts suggested foreigners may be heading for the war-torn country after being driven from Syria and Iraq.

It is also a troubling sign as France, which has faced the worst of the ISIL-inspired violence in Europe since 2015, debates how to handle hundreds of its citizens who went to fight for the group in the Middle East.

“A number” of Algerian and French nationals entered the largely ISIL-controlled district of Darzab in northern Jowzjan province in November, said district governor Baaz Mohammad Dawar.

At least two women were among the arrivals, who were travelling with a translator from Tajikistan as well as Chechens and Uzbeks, Dawar added.

European and Afghan security sources in Kabul confirmed Dawar’s claim that French citizens were among the militants -- though, one cautioned, “we do not know how many there are.”

Mohammad Raza Ghafoori, the Jowzjan provincial governor’s spokesman, said French-speaking Caucasian men and women had been seen training ISIL militants in Darzab.

He cited reports saying that around 50 children, some as young as 10, have also been recruited by the militants.

Darzab residents told AFP that roughly 200 foreigners had set up camp just a few hundred meters from the village of Bibi Mariam.

One local man who gave his name as Hajji said the militants were of several nationalities, including French, and were tall, aged in their late 20s, and dressed in military clothing.

Hashar, a former district village chief, said some were training others to use suicide bombs and lay mines.

Meanwhile, ISIL has seized territory in Syria’s Idlib province after clashes with rival jihadists, nearly four years after being expelled from the region, a monitor said on Dec. 9.

The Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said ISIL had captured the village of Bashkun after clashes with Hayat Tahrir al-Sham, a force dominated by a former Al-Qaeda affiliate.

The capture comes after days of fighting between ISIL and HTS in neighboring Hama province, during which ISIL captured a string of villages in the northeast of the region, the Observatory said.

The capture of Bashkun puts ISIL back in Idlib nearly four years after it was first expelled from the province in northwestern Syria after battles with rival jihadists and rebel groups.