According to a soon-to-be-released study conducted by the French think-tank Centre d’analyse du terrorisme (CAT), dozens of former French servicemen have joined the ranks of terrorist groups. Most of these Jihadists served in Special Operations or elite units, one of which is the French Foreign Legion.
The French leading newspaper Le Figaro got some excerpts of the report. These excerpts describe that approximately 23 ex-servicemen have been identified within terrorist organisations or have been involved in the planning of terrorist attacks. The report states that some of the ex-servicemen “became radicalised after they joined the French army, while others started becoming radicalised after they left the army… however, some were planning to go and join jihadist groups before being recruited by the French armed forces.”
More than a third of these ex-servicemen had converted to Islam.
A well-trained former serviceman can go a long way in imbuing a ragtag terrorist element with some sort of military discipline. And that discipline can then be translated into more effective operations of either a terrorist or military nature.
“The issue of detecting people likely to become radicalised while serving [in the armed forces] is capital. Even if the army is a formidable institution for integration and cohesion, the risk is real,” said to the Telegraph Thibault de Montbrial, a former paratrooper and president of the Centre de Réflexion sur la Sécurité Intérieure, a French think-tank that focuses on internal security, .
France has had close ties, with a considerable number of African and Arab countries, that hark back to its colonial past — Syria, for instance, was a French mandate (a semi-colony) until the middle of the Second World War.
One of the more appealing traits of the French Foreign Legion is its ability to attract recruits from all over the world. Regardless of their past, people of all nationalities can join the Legion, serve France and become French citizens. It is worth noting that the notion of murderers joining the Legion to evade the law is an anachronism. Even before the Global War on Terror (GWOT) began, the Legion had established stricter criteria for joining its ranks, something that resulted in more French recruits joining; this somewhat balanced the numbers of foreigners.