Sources close to the US Department of Defense claimed on Thursday that David Drugeon, a French jihadist and bomb-making expert, was likely killed in a US attack in Syria. An American drone reportedly hit a convoy transporting members of the Khorasan group, a faction of senior al Qaeda members, in Idlib province, 40 miles to the west of Aleppo.
Speaking to VICE News today, a spokesman for the French ministry of foreign affairs refused to confirm reports of Drugeon's death, saying that his ministry was liaising with the American authorities on the matter. He also declined to provide any background information on the French target of this US operation.
According to AFP, 24-year-old Drugeon was born in Vannes, Brittany, in the northwest of France. He left school with a vocational diploma in mechanics and was reportedly a fan of the Olympic Marseille soccer team in his teens. Following his parents' divorce, he converted to Islam at the age of 13, radicalizing through a local group of Salafi Muslims and adopted the name Daoud.
After saving up money, Drugeon traveled to Egypt to study the Koran. In 2010, he told his family that he was returning to Egypt, traveling instead to the tribal areas of Pakistan to wage jihad in the Pakistan-Afghanistan region. There, he met Moez Garsallaoui, a Belgian al Qaeda veteran, who taught him how to handle explosives.
According to an article published on October 17 in French newspaper L'Express, Garsallaoui was a key player in recruiting and training Francophone al Qaeda militants. He was allegedly a mentor for Toulouse gunman Mohamed Merah, who killed seven people in a series of gun attacks targeting soldiers and Jewish civilians in the French cities of Montauban and Toulouse in March 2012.
In a video from April 2014, French newspaper Le Parisien described Drugeon as being "very closely monitored by the French and American secret services," painting him as "extremely active and a priority target."
There were rumors that Drugeon was the French intelligence agent who had defected to al Qaeda (referred to but not named by McClatchy on October 5). Speaking to VICE News last month, Alain Chouet, former head of France's external intelligence agency (DGSE), expressed his doubts over the link between Drugeon and French intelligence services.
A L'Express article published in mid-October expounded on why Drugeon may have been mistaken for a DGSE agent. As a teenager, Drugeon was enrolled in a sports camp in the village of Coëtquidan, Brittany. Coëtquidan is also the site of Saint-Cyr, France's foremost military academy — a coincidence that may be at the root of the French-spy-turned-jihadist rumor.
In a letter to his father written in 2010, Drugeon wrote: "We will meet again in the next life and I will die a martyr." His death has still not been officially confirmed.
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