An associate of the suspected mastermind of the Paris attacks was killed in a US-led airstrike in Syria, the Pentagon said Tuesday, eliminating what officials say is one of the self-styled Islamic State’s most active threats.
US Army Col. Steve Warren identified the man as Charaffe al Mouadan, a Syrian-based operative who was linked to Abdel Hamid Abaaoud, leader of the Paris attacks. Mr. al Mouadan was "actively planning additional attacks against the West," Warren told reporters in Baghdad. He was killed in an airstrike last Thursday.
Warren said al Mouadan “had a direct link” with Mr. Abaaoud before the Paris attacks took place on Nov. 13, killing 130 people. He was one of 10 Islamic State leaders killed in airstrikes over Syria and Iraq during the past month.
Abaaoud was killed in a police raid in the Paris suburb of Saint-Denis last month. At least seven of the other Paris attackers are also dead, while authorities are still searching for four additional suspects, Reuters reports.
The mayor of Drancy, a northeastern suburb of Paris, told Reuters that al Mouadan was also connected to Samy Amimour, one of the three gunmen who attacked a packed Paris concert hall, the Bataclan. Mayor Jean-Christophe Lagarde said the two men grew up together in Drancy and that al Mouadan paved the way for them to leave for Syria.
Mr. Lagarde said al Mouadan lived in a middle-class neighborhood, insisting that it was not an impoverished area. His family was originally from Morocco.
Agence France-Presse reports that his path to radicalization appears to have been through the Internet. He was arrested in October 2012 with two friends, including Mr. Amimour, as they were preparing to travel together to Yemen or Afghanistan. He was freed but eventually made his way to Syria in August 2013.
The New York Times reports that al Mouadan returned to the attention of the authorities after a survivor of the attack on the Bataclan recalled hearing the gunmen talking about consulting an accomplice, “Souleymane.”
Souleymane was a nickname used by al Mouadan. Authorities suspected that he may have been involved in the logistics of the attack.
In addition to al Mouadan, US airstrikes also killed a member of the Islamic State’s external operations group in Mosul, Iraq, on Dec. 26. Warren identified that man as Abdul Qader Hakim, who he said was “a forgery specialist and had links to the Paris attacks network.”
The US is ramping up pressure on such high-value militants as part of a broader effort to roll back Islamic State havens in Iraq and Syria and limit the group’s ability to carry out attacks overseas.
"We're striking at the head of this snake," Warren told reporters. "We haven't severed the head of the snake yet, and it's still got fangs. We have to be clear about that. There's much more fighting to do."
US President Obama announced earlier this month that he is sending special operations forces into Iraq to conduct clandestine raids against Islamic State leaders, the Associated Press reports. So far, the Pentagon has not said when the special operations forces will deploy.