A new report compiling testimonies from French jihadists about their life with the Islamic State (Isis) has revealed what salary Isis pays its fighters, what a combatant's daily life looks like and why some chose to return to Europe.
The document, named Recruitment, Itinerary and Activities of French Fighters was sent to every magistrate investigating terrorism in the country at the beginning of October.
In it, officers of the Direction des Affaires Criminelles et des Grâces (the department of criminal matters and pardons, DACG), have compiled testimonies of French fighters being investigated after their return from the Iraqi-Syrian region, according to Le Monde.
The business of jihadists smugglers
Jihadists described how routes into Syria have widely diversified since the conflict began. In order to "cover their tracks" some French jihad candidates now fly to Istanbul from neighbouring countries such as Belgium, Germany, Switzerland and Spain.
Others travel by road to Antakya (also known as the former town of Antioch), a city in south-east Turkey, just 12 miles from the Syrian border.
On arrival at the Turco-Syrian border, the future jihadists explained how they were taken care of by either other jihadists – some French – or most commonly by smugglers, who they pay between €100 (£74, $114) and €200 to take them either by foot or in a van into Syria.
According to the testimonies, the border crossings "do not seem to pose any difficulties other than climbing barbed wires".
The smugglers, jihadists added, are driven by simple "commercial" motivations after a "true business has been developed around this activity".
At this stage of the trip, some jihadists said they were asked which group they wanted to join: IS or the Islamist Nusra Front, Al-Qaeda's offshoot in Syria. Others, however, claim they were not consulted about their posting.
It is estimated that three-quarters of French fighters in the area have integrated IS, with the Nusra front suffering heavily from the high profile concurrence of "its enemy brother".
"Friends who had left in concert for Syria have thus found themselves in opposing groups, having not crossed the border at the same time or with the same people."
The daily life of a jihadist
Once the oath of allegiance has been taken, a number of jihadists explained how their identity documents had been confiscated.
Still considered to be apprentices, the new recruits are banned from leaving their residence for one or two months – the period which they spend in training camps, according to the DACG.
There, they wake up at 5.30am for the morning prayer, before they start physical training (including running, press-ups and assault courses), military training (shooting Kalashnikovs, rocket launchers and grenades), mental conditioning (resistance to cold or hunger) and religious teachings. The fighters are also expected to do night watches. It is only once this training is complete that the fighters are grouped in a katiba (battalion) by cultural and linguistic affinities.
A number of French recruits have risen in the ranks, some becoming group leaders, members of the Islamic police or even imams, the report revealed. Others become fighters, nurses or are tasked with more "menial jobs" such as cleaning or cooking.
The IS or Nusra provide the combatants with accommodation and they receive remuneration which depends on their assignments. A man put under investigation after returning to France revealed the fighters in his household received around $100 (£65) a month.
The DACG said many former French jihadists failed to acknowledge their participation in actual fights, but rather spoke of simple patrols. In a testimony, one such combatant described how his group "secured" Shiite and Kurd villages by shooting down anyone they came across. Moreover, it is reported that a dozen Frenchmen died in suicide attacks.
Torture and throat-slitting sessions
The DACG established that some French fighters had taken part in "exactions" against Syrian civilians, particularly in the cities of Azaz, 20 miles north-west of Aleppo and Al-Raqqah, where this week IS gave males over the age of 14 one week to register their names with the religious police or risk punishment, fuelling fears of forced circumscription.
One combatant who took part in the abuses that "particularly marked his experience" confessed having participated in public throat-slitting sessions as demanded by extremist interpretations of Islamic Sharia law.
He even admitted holding the head of a prisoner during his beheading. Others have described how they witnessed executions, stoning, amputations and floggings on the public square in Azaz two to three times a week. During such sessions, "the heads of people accused of being apostates were cut and exposed".
Heroin dealers, homosexuals, rebels, and those accused of witchcraft or adultery were executed on the street and their bodies exposed during a couple of days "with a label indicating the reason of their execution", according to the testimony of a former member of the Islamic police.
The man, who explained how cannabis or tobacco dealers were also flogged, gave examples of how a 14-year-old boy was decapitated for having interrupted a prayer, how an old man considered a witch was beheaded with a sabre and how a homosexual was thrown out a window.
During the hearings, some fighters spoke about their disenchantment when facing the "fratricidal struggle" between IS and Nusra, which they claim have been an incentive for a growing number of return journeys.
Since the start of the coalition air-strikes against IS in August 2014, the terrorist organisation is estimated to have lost up to 9,000 of its fighters, who have either been killed or have left the region.
Since the beginning of this year, IS is reported to have resorted to dissuading fighters from deserting by executing weak or indecisive combatants.
The DACG is also paying particular attention to French jihadists that IS may have "potentially authorised" to return to French soil as "promoters of terrorist projects".
A jihadist, who was arrested recently, described Syria as a factory for terrorists trained to strike France and Europe in a very near future.
On 27 September, France announced it was launching its first air strikes in Syria, destroying an IS training camp in the east of the country.