French bombmaker killed by US strike in Syria: Report

WASHINGTON (AFP) - US-led air strikes in Syria have killed French bombmaker David Drugeon, a 24-year-old Muslim convert who joined an Al-Qaeda offshoot, the Khorasan group, Fox News reported on Thursday.

A strike by a US Predator drone struck a vehicle in Syria's Idlib province, in which Drugeon was believed to be travelling, the media group said.

The car's driver lost a leg and was not expected to live, while a passenger believed to be Drugeon was killed, Fox said, citing "well-placed military sources."

US officials confirmed they had carried out strikes Wednesday but said they could not confirm Drugeon had been killed.

"We are still assessing the outcome of the attack," a Pentagon spokesman, Colonel Steven Warren, told AFP.

He said "initial indications" suggest the strikes destroyed or severely damaged "several Khorasan Group vehicles, terrorists and buildings assessed to be meeting and staging areas, IED-making facilities and training facilities."

A statement from US Central Command said the Khorasan group had been targeted because "these Al-Qaeda operatives are taking advantage of the Syrian conflict to advance attacks against Western interests."

"This network was plotting to attack in Europe or the homeland, and we took decisive action to protect our interests and remove their capability to act," said the US Central Command, which oversees American military operations in the Middle East.

"We will continue to take any action necessary to disrupt attack plotting against US interests," it added, saying the strikes targeted installations near Sarmada, and were carried out by the US alone.

Most US air strikes in Syria have targeted the Islamic State group, but Washington said on the first day of bombings on Sept 23 they had also hit the Khorasan group - a cell of Al-Qaeda veterans planning attacks against the West.

Analysts at the time said the strike actually targeted the Al-Nusra Front, which is Al-Qaeda's Syrian branch.

There have been no reported strikes on groups outside IS since, but this second attack comes after Al-Nusra made gains against Western-backed rebel fighters in the Idlib region.

Centcom denied there was a link between this latest strike and Al-Nusra's clashes with the Western-backed rebels, drawing a clear distinction between Khorasan and Al-Nusra.

Drugeon, who hails from Brittany in western France, reportedly joined an al-Qaeda faction in Pakistan fighting US troops in neighboring Afghanistan in 2010.

He learned to make bombs there, and, according to reports citing French intelligence sources, developed a method to escape airport security by dipping clothing in explosives.

At some point last year or early this year, Drugeon is believed to have traveled to Syria to join the Khorasan group.

CNN, citing US officials, said the French militant has helped facilitate the movement of fighters between Europe and Syria, and worked to plan attacks back home.

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