LORI HINNANT | Reuters | 11/17/14 08:26 AM ET
PARIS, Nov 17 (Reuters) - France said on Monday there was a very strong likelihood that an Islamic State militant who appears on a beheading video released by the group at the weekend was a 22-year-old French citizen.
The 15-minute video posted online shows the decapitations of at least 14 men who Islamic State said were pilots and officers loyal to Syrian President Bashar al-Assad. The video also shows the severed head of U.S. aid worker Peter Kassig.
France's interior minister said analysis by its DGSI security service suggested that one of the men shown herding prisoners to the execution site was Maxime Hauchard, a Frenchman from the northern Eure region who left for Syria in August 2013.
"This analysis suggests with a very high probability that a French citizen could have directly participated in carrying out these abject acts," Bernard Cazeneuve told journalists.
The disclosure came hours after a father in Britain said he believed his son, a British medical student, was in the Islamic State squad filmed beheading the soldiers.
Hundreds of Western volunteers have joined the ranks of Islamic State insurgents in Syria and Iraq. The French and British governments have said that any citizen participating in executions would face consequences for their acts.
French authorities have said that about 1,000 citizens have joined Islamist factions in Syria.
Judges last year opened a preliminary investigation against Hauchard on suspicion that he was participating in a conspiracy to commit terrorist acts, the charge commonly levied against citizens who have fought with Islamist militants.
Hauchard, whom French media have said was known in his home town as "friendly, easygoing" and without a criminal record, was interviewed by BFMTV in the summer saying that his goal in joining Islamic State was to become a martyr.
(Reporting by Nicholas Vinocur; Editing by James Regan and Mark Heinrich)
Cazeneuve said authorities were analyzing the video and have been investigating Hauchard, who is around 22 years old and from west of Paris. The convert to Islam gave an interview to France's BFM television in July, telling the network he had helped in the capture of Mosul, the Iraqi city whose fall eventually prompted the United States to resume military operations there.
"I call solemnly and seriously on all our citizens, and notably our young people who are the primary target of the terrorist propaganda, to open your eyes to the terrible reality of the actions of Daesh," Cazeneuve said, using an Arabic acronym for the group. "These are criminals that are building a system of barbarity."
French citizens make up the largest contingent of European jihadi fighters who have joined extremists in Syria and Iraq. According to the Paris prosecutor's office, about 1,100 people have been placed under surveillance, and 95 people face charges.
Hauchard, who is believed to have arrived in Syria in 2013, is among those under judicial investigation, Cazeneuve said.
In the July interview, Hauchard said he was expecting and hoping for death.
"From a personal point of view, my objective is to be a martyr," Hauchard said.
Frenchman, Brit Thought To Be Among Killers In ISIS Beheadings