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French Authorities Work To Identify Militant In ISIS Video

MELISSA BLOCK, HOST:

French authorities now believe a second Frenchman may have been involved with Islamic State militants in the murders of American aid worker Peter Kassig and 18 Syrian soldiers. The involvement of one French citizen in the killings has already been confirmed. NPR's Eleanor Beardsley has been looking into his background.

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UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN #1: (Speaking French).

ELEANOR BEARDSLEY, BYLINE: French reporters have descended on the tiny Normandy hometown of 22-year-old Maxime Hauchard, looking for clues to why a young man born and raised in the French Catholic heartland would convert to Islam, join extremist fighters in Syria and apparently carry out such barbaric acts. Neighbors told reporters they'd known Maxime Hauchard since he was a toddler.

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UNIDENTIFIED MAN #1: (Speaking French).

BEARDSLEY: They said he was a nice boy who had worked hard at the local pizzeria and service station and came from a good family.

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UNIDENTIFIED MAN #2: (Speaking French).

BEARDSLEY: His school friends said they were surprised when he grew a beard and began to fast during Ramadan.

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FRANCOIS MOLINS: (Speaking French).

BEARDSLEY: Paris prosecutor Francois Molins says the number of French young people traveling to fight in Syria has risen astronomically in the last few years. Molins says French intelligence is monitoring about 1,300 suspected jihadists and other Islamist radicals compared with a couple-dozen a few years ago. Maxime Hauchard was one of them until he left for Syria last August. The security services of Britain, Germany and Belgium are struggling with the same problem.

UNIDENTIFIED MAN #3: Bonjour.

STEPHANE LACOMBE: Bonjour.

BEARDSLEY: Stephane Lacombe works in Paris for a European-wide initiative called the Radicalisation Awareness Network. The group, funded by the European Union, tries to prevent young people from becoming extremists. Lacombe says Hauchard's case -a regular guy becoming a jihadist - didn't surprise him at all.

LACOMBE: Most of the young jihadists come from the middle class. So it's not your usual equation - poor people, social issues can lead to violence.

BEARDSLEY: And he says most young extremists are not the disaffected children of Muslim immigrants.

LACOMBE: Eighty percent of the French families who have to deal with this issue don't have religious background. So it's not a question of religion.

BEARDSLEY: It's a question, says Lacombe, of insecure and impressionable young people faced with life's difficulties and challenges and being overwhelmed by seductive propaganda.

LACOMBE: There is a kind of moral crisis in Western societies. And the recruiters, the extremists, analyze perfectly well the fragilities of our society. The problem now is that they have a tool called Internet, the web, that's very difficult to deal with.

BEARDSLEY: French Interior Minister Bernard Cazeneuve called today for some Islamist websites to be blocked, saying 98 percent of the young people who go to Syria go because of jihadist propaganda. Lacombe agrees that some websites might need to be blocked, but censorship could send the recruiters underground. Eleanor Beardsley, NPR News, Paris. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.