Reuters International

An Islamic State flag is seen in this picture illustration taken February 18, 2016. REUTERS/Dado Ruvic/Illustration/File Photo

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PARIS (Reuters) - The number of French citizens travelling to join Islamic State in 2016 has dropped drastically from last year, Interior Minister Bernard Cazeneuve said on Tuesday, putting the fall down to military reverses suffered by the militant group.

With Europe's largest Muslim population, France has been a major centre for recruitment of would-be jihadis joining Islamic State, with hundreds of people travelling to the region since the group took control of large swathes of Iraq and Syria.

Speaking to security agents at the ministry, Cazeneuve said there had been a "fourfold decrease" with just 18 French people recorded travelling to the area in the first six months of the year compared with 69 in the corresponding period in 2015.

The depletion, he said, was explained by the group's recent losses on the ground but also by France's "enhanced anti-terrorism efforts."

According to interior ministry figures released on Tuesday, 689 French citizens are still in the region, including 275 women and 17 underage fighters.

More than 900 people have been identified as having either attempted to travel to the region or expressed a desire to go there, the ministry's figures showed.

(Reporting By Gerard Bon; Writing by John Irish; Editing by Hugh Lawson)

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