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Why are young jihadists joining ISIS?
03:37 - Source: CNN

Story highlights

France says some 950 French nationals are involved in jihad

Experts say there are many reasons why they choose to travel to Syria and Iraq to fight

Nicolas Bons, 30, was killed in "an explosives operation" in Syria; his half-brother also died

His mother wants others to be aware of the dangers posed by Islamist extremists

CNN  — 

The scrapbook is filled with photographs and tributes: they show Dominique Bons’ son Nicolas growing from a teenager into a young man.

Offering brief glimpses of past holidays and family moments, clues to his passions and personality, the book is one of Bons’ few souvenirs of her son’s short life.

Nicolas, from Toulouse, converted to Islam four years ago, gradually becoming more and more devout.

Bons, who is a former French soldier, says Nicolas had never spoken to her about wanting to join a religious war, but last year the 30-year-old announced he and his half-brother were going on vacation together.

Three weeks later he called to say they were in Syria – two of the more than 900 French citizens the government believes are involved in the jihad there and in Iraq.

Within days, his half-brother was killed, and shortly afterward he spoke to his mother for the last time, telling her she would be notified if anything happened to him.

In late December, Bons received a text message explaining that Nicolas has been killed in “an explosives operation” – that’s all she knows.

“The body? There is no body… I don’t have a body,” she says. “If he was killed in a truck filled with explosives, the body… boom!”

Because no body has been recovered, there is also no death certificate, meaning that –officially at least, in France – Nicolas is still alive.

For his mother, he always will be. In her grief, she has written a poem – added to the treasured scrapbook – telling her son: “You will exist in my heart eternally. I love you.”

Unlike Bons, one anonymous French bus driver knows his daughter is still alive in Syria – but he is desperately worried that may not be the case for much longer.

The man – who asked not to be identified out of concern for his daughter’s safety – says the 23-year-old converted to Islam and married a Tunisian man before moving to Syria with the couple’s two children.

The couple said they were going there to do humanitarian work; they are now believed to be in Raqqa, and safe – for the moment at least – but the city, an ISIS stronghold, is a target of coalition forces.

And both father and daughter fear she could be arrested if she comes back to France.

He has a warning for other parents: “Pay attention… it could happen to you before you even know it.”

David Thomson, author of “The French Jihadists,” believes there are many reasons why so many French Muslims are becoming radicalized and heading to Iraq and Syria to join militant groups.

“Religious frustrations, material frustrations, perhaps a feeling that it would be a sin to stay back in France, a desire to experience this historic moment and die fighting the coalition,” he explains.

Concerned at the growing threat of radicalization, French authorities have introduced new regulations in an effort to stem the tide of citizens traveling to the Middle East to join the fight.

“We had to change our rules in different ways,” Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius explained to CNN’s Christiane Amanpour recently.

“First we decided that the government, the administration, would be able to suspend not only passports but also ID for people whose intention is to go to Syria.”