Isil recruiter killed by drone strike as France foils attack
A notorious terrorist recruiter linked to a string of Isil-inspired attacks in France has been killed in an American drone strike in Iraq, French police sources said yesterday.
The report came as French police thwarted an "imminent" suicide attack, possibly on a Paris tourist site, with the arrests of four suspected Isil recruits, including a 16-year-old girl, who were manufacturing explosives.
Rachid Kassim is believed to have been killed on Wednesday near Mosul, an Isil stronghold in northern Iraq. He was linked to the Brussels terror attacks and is believed to have masterminded the murders last year of a French police couple and that of an elderly priest whose throat was slit in a Normandy church.
French sources said the information had come from the US military and French intelligence was checking that it was Kassim who died, according to BFM television. Kassim, a 29-year-old Frenchman, was a leading online Isil recruiter who was also linked to a failed attempt to set off explosions near Notre-Dame cathedral in the heart of Paris.
After the Nice lorry attack last July, video footage appeared online showing Kassim beheading captives and threatening similar attacks on the streets of France by French citizens.
He directly threatened President Francois Hollande and warned that Isil was planning more attacks in France.
The arrests were made yesterday near Montpellier, in southern France, after intelligence agents monitored social media postings by the teenage girl, named locally as Sara, in which she said she wanted to attack France and go to Syria or Iraq.
Her boyfriend (20), named as Thomas, was also arrested along with another two men, aged 26 and 33. Thomas is suspected of planning to blow himself up at an unspecified Paris tourist attraction.
The couple, believed to be converts to Islam, were planning an Islamic marriage before Thomas carried out the suicide bombing. Sara was then to have travelled to Syria to join Isil as a "martyr's widow", judicial sources said.
Explosives and bomb-making equipment were found during a dawn raid on the apartment where they were living. According to the landlord, named as Mohammed, they moved in recently after he agreed to shelter them because they claimed they had nowhere else to go.
The 33-year-old man in custody is suspected of putting them in contact with jihadists in Syria and helping the teenage girl obtain a fake passport.
Bruno Le Roux, the interior minister, said the arrests in Clapiers, on the outskirts of Montpellier, and in Marseillan, about 50km away, "foiled an imminent plan to carry out an attack on French territory."