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France Moves to Stop Flow of Fighters Into Syria

Police accompany judges during an investigation last October in Toulouse, where French self-proclaimed Islamic extremist gunman Mohamed Merah in 2012 stole a scooter and went on a shooting spree, killing seven. French officials want to stop extremists from traveling to Syria, where they might train for attacks in European nations. Police accompany judges during an investigation last October in Toulouse, where French self-proclaimed Islamic extremist gunman Mohamed Merah in 2012 stole a scooter and went on a shooting spree, killing seven. French officials want to stop extremists from traveling to Syria, where they might train for attacks in European nations. (Eric Cabanis/AFP/Getty Images)

France is moving to stop its residents from traveling to Syria to join militant opponents of President Bashar Assad's regime, the Wall Street Journal reports.

The country was poised on Wednesday to enact "all kinds of measures to dissuade, to stop, to punish those who would be tempted to go fighting in places where they have no place," French President Francois Hollande said. Government personnel said more than 500 people have traveled from France to Syria, spurring fears that they could receive preparations in the conflict-torn state to conduct strikes in Europe.

The anticipated steps would include keeping tabs on Internet efforts by Islamic extremists to draft volunteers for the Syrian civil war from inside France. Militants operate websites to find French sympathizers, and then make arrangements for inductees to enter Syria through neighboring nations, such as Turkey.

The French government campaign would pursue cooperation with relatives of younger people thought to be developing radical views, according to the Journal. In addition, French authorities are intensifying efforts to crack down on individuals who have returned from combat in Syria, the newspaper reported.

The FBI in Washington similarly has been tracking U.S. residents who have returned from rebel activities in Syria and might become terrorist risks at home.

The number of Europeans traveling to join the Syrian war increased more than two-fold last year, and the conflict is now equipping 2,000 to 3,000 Westerners with experience in fighting and bomb-making, experts said in a Tuesday article by the Christian Science Monitor.

A high-level French antiterrorism insider said the potential threat has "now gone into another dimension, different from anything most countries have seen before." The source said the possible dangers from Syria outsize equivalent threats from Iraq, Yemen and "in many ways ... Afghanistan."

"The risks are already big, and they'll just keep growing as the Syrian war continues," the official said.

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