PARIS (Reuters) - French security services have identified an Islamic State militant who appears in a beheading video released by the group at the weekend as one of its nationals and are analyzing the footage to determine if a second fighter is also French.
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 U.S. aid worker Peter Kassig.
“It has allowed us to identify one of the jihadis as French citizen Maxime Hauchard,” Paris Prosecutor Frederic Molins told reporters on Monday. “There is the possible existence of a second Frenchman, but it is too early to say.”
Interior Minister Bernard Cazeneuve said analysis by the DGSI security service suggested that Hauchard, 22, a French Muslim convert from the Normandy region, was one of the men herding prisoners to the execution site.
Molins, who said one of Hauchard’s contacts had been arrested in France last week and charged with terrorism-related offences, was known to intelligence services after twice traveling to Mauritania to attend Salafist Koranic centers.
“He returned from Mauritania disappointed, deeming the teachings in those schools as not radical enough for him.”
A second 22-year old man, who also appeared in the video, could be a French national, Molins said, declining to give further details until security services finished their analysis.
Earlier in the day a father in Britain said he believed his son, a British medical student, was in the Islamic State squad filmed beheading the soldiers.
Thousands of Western volunteers have joined Islamic State. Molins said 1,132 French citizens are involved in jihadi cells linked to the region, of which 376 nationals, including 88 women and 10 minors, are in Syria and Iraq.
“It is an external enemy but also an internal one, because tomorrow French nationals can return to use these terror weapons against their own country,” Prime Minister Manuel Valls said. “They’ll need to pay ... for the horrors they have carried out.”
Hauchard, described by neighbors in his home town as “friendly, easygoing”, was interviewed by BFMTV in the summer saying his goal was to become a martyr.
France is part of a coalition carrying out air strikes on Islamic State. It toughened anti-terrorism laws this year to stop citizens going to Syria and prevent young Muslims becoming radicalized.
Reporting by Nicholas Vinocur and John Irish; Editing by James Regan and Mark Heinrich