The US-led coalition force recently targeted a top Islamic State (Isis) commander in Mosul, Iraq in one of its latest air strikes. The militant, Rachid Kassim, is believed to have guided a huge number of foiled attacks against France in 2016.
The Pentagon confirmed on Friday (10 February) that their strike targeted Kassim, but could not say if he was killed. However, a senior US defense official told CNN that the strike, carried out by a drone, was "likely successful".
Jean-Charles Brisard, the director of the Paris-based Center for the Analysis of Terrorism, told the news broadcaster that Kassim – a French citizen – is "the single most active French remote attack planner" for IS (Daesh).
Elaborating on Kassim's role in IS ranks, Brisard said that the militant had been working to drive dozens of radicalised individuals in France to carry out deadly attacks. He was also the plotter of half of the 17 terrorist attack plots foiled in France in 2016. He added that several reports in social media channels indicated that Kassim was dead following the coalition air raid.
However, US Maj. Adrian Rankine-Galloway said on Friday that they are still assessing the results of the strike. He confirmed that "coalition forces targeted Rachid Kassim, a senior ISIS operative, near Mosul in a strike in the past 72 hours".
Brisard told CNN that messages posted in the past 24 hours on several Telegram channels belonging to French IS operatives indicated that Kassim was dead as the messages asked the militant's followers to pray for him and his family "pending news that will strengthen your hearts".
However, he cautioned that such messages could be fake, which the jihadist group is intentionally propagating to fool Western intelligence agencies about Kassim's death. He said that a confirmation from the intelligence agencies is awaited.
Meanwhile, Pentagon spokesman Navy Capt Jeff Davis told reporters at Pentagon on Friday that efforts to drive out IS from western Mosul "are somewhat static" as Iraqi forces are preparing to launch their offensive on the second quadrant of the city on the west.
He added that the situation in Raqqa - the last IS stronghold in Syria - is changing with the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) having already taken control of the three axes in "the south, northwest ... and east".
Davis said that the SDF has also begun blowing up bridges south of Raqqa along the Euphrates River to cut all supply lines of the militants. The enemy now has only one route from which it can resupply, he noted.