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French Ad Campaign Aims To Keep Youths From Fighting In Syria

RENEE MONTAGNE, HOST:

And the French government has launched an ad campaign to dissuade young people from traveling to Syria to join extremists. France estimates 500 of its citizens are fighting in Syria - more than any other European country. Here's NPR's Eleanor Beardsley.

ELEANOR BEARDSLEY, BYLINE: The ads began appearing this week on television, radio and the Internet. They are simple but heart-wrenching. Veronique sits in her living room. Her blonde hair neatly coiffed, a brave smile on her face. She talks about her 20-year-old son Felix. He had a good childhood, she says. He loved music and sports. We had just had a wonderful family weekend together with his brother, and the next day he left for Germany. A month later, he called us from Syria.

(SOUNDBITE OF AD)

VERONIQUE: (Speaking French).

BEARDSLEY: "It's horrible," says Veronique, whose last name is not given, "because I just want to hold him in my arms, but I can't."

(SOUNDBITE OF AD)

BAPTISTE: (Speaking French).

BEARDSLEY: Lea left with a scarf and a knapsack on a beautiful day, says Baptiste, father of the 17-year-old girl. Then she called us and said, Mom and Dad, this is going to hurt you, but I'm in Syria doing jihad. Baptiste says Lea has since had a baby.

(SOUNDBITE OF AD)

BAPTISTE: (Speaking French).

BEARDSLEY: "Our joyous daughter was stolen from us," he says.

(SOUNDBITE OF AD)

UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN: (Speaking French).

BEARDSLEY: At the end of the ad, the announcer gives listeners an 800-number to call for help. Wassim Nasr, a French journalist who follows jihadi movements, says misguided young people are lured into believing they will help Syrian children under attack by Bashar al-Assad's bombs. Nasr says the French government's ad campaign is going in the right direction.

WASSIM NASR: And by showing people from different origins in these four videos, it shows that they understand the complexity of this problem and doesn't concern one community more than another.

BEARDSLEY: The filmmaker who made the ads, Fabienne Servan-Schreiber, agrees the kids who go join the extremists come from every social, ethnic and religious background. But she says the families they leave behind are shattered and stigmatized.

FABIENNE SERVAN-SCHREIBER: For these families, what is very difficult is that all the society look at them as if they were guilty. And, in fact, those families are victims.

BEARDSLEY: The French government hopes the new campaign will make young people think twice before heading to Syria and prevent some of these family tragedies. Eleanor Beardsley, NPR News, Paris. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.