US-led coalition checking if French jihadist killed in Syria -source

by Reuters
Thursday, 21 February 2019 17:28 GMT

(Adds source saying Clain killed, details)

By Emmanuel Jarry and Michel Rose

PARIS, Feb 21 (Reuters) - The U.S.-led coalition fighting Islamic State is verifying whether an air strike in Syria killed French jihadist Fabien Clain, who voiced the recording claiming the November 2015 attacks on Paris, a French source said on Thursday.

Clain became known as the French voice of Islamic State after he read out the six-minute statement. In the recording, a man, believed to be his brother, gave a rallying cry to music for Muslims to fight the infidels "without ever capitulating."

"Checks are being made," the source said.

A second French source close to the matter said that Clain had been killed and his brother Jean-Michel seriously wounded after a coalition strike on Wednesday in Baghouz, the final pocket held by the militants in northeastern Syria.

"Fabien was killed and his brother was seriously wounded in the operation," the source said.

"There is a process of verification, but it is difficult to send someone on the ground. While there is no body, we have to remain prudent."

France's military, foreign ministry and president's office declined to comment. The U.S.-led coalition said it could not confirm the information at this time.

The U.S.-backed Kurdish-led Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF), which has steadily driven the jihadists down the Euphrates, has surrounded Islamic State fighters at Baghouz near the Iraqi border, but does not want to mount a final attack until all civilians are out.

French authorities estimate that about 100 French jihadists may still be fighting in the Baghouz area and say dozens are being held by Kurdish-led groups in northern Syria.

Clain is a veteran jihadi, jailed in the past for recruiting militant fighters and believed by French authorities to have fled to Syria in 2015.

They believe he played a bigger role in the Nov. 13 attacks, the worst in France since World War Two, than simply recording the claim. A squad of gunmen and suicide bombers killed 129 people and injured more than 350 in the attack on entertainment venues in the French capital.

Clain converted to Islam in the late 1990s. Like his younger brother, he is believed by French police to have become radicalised in the early 2000s when he lived in the southern city of Toulouse where he frequented radical networks.

He was involved in the militant recruitment "Artigat cell", French officials have said. Members of that cell were believed to have been mentored by Salafist preacher Olivier Corel, known locally as the "white emir". (Additional reporting by John Irish and Sophie Louet; writing by John Irish, Editing by Richard Lough, William Maclean)

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