US drone strike kills French ISIS operative, Pentagon says

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Story highlights

  • Boubaker Hakim is a French-Tunisian ISIS operative
  • The Pentagon says Saturday he was killed

(CNN)A French ISIS operative suspected of enabling a terrorist attack on a tourist beach in Tunisia was killed by a US drone strike in late November, according to the Pentagon.

Boubaker Hakim, 33, a veteran French-Tunisian ISIS operative who had gained a reputation as one of the most notorious and ruthless figures in global jihad -- was targeted in Raqqa, Syria, on November 26, Pentagon spokesman Peter Cook said.
    "His removal degrades ISIL's ability to conduct further attacks in the West and denies ISIL a veteran extremist with extensive ties," he said, using a different acronym for ISIS.
    CNN reported Friday than Hakim was targeted, citing a source briefed by French intelligence.
    Intelligence indicated that Hakim was connected to the Tunisian cell behind the June 2015 Sousse attack via an intermediary in Libya, a senior British counterterrorism source told CNN.
    Thirty-eight people, including 30 British tourists, were killed.
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    Other Tunisian plots

    According to the source, the same ISIS-linked cell also carried out a deadly attack on the Bardo museum in Tunis in March 2015.
    Investigators believe the plotters were in touch with ISIS operatives in the group's safe-haven spanning parts of Syria and Iraq, but the source described the Tunisian plots as "ISIS-enabled" rather than "ISIS-directed."
    Unlike the Paris attacks, the Sousse plot did not involve a cell recruited, trained and dispatched by the senior leadership of ISIS in Syria and Iraq. Rather, it was a homegrown cell that developed ties to the core organization. Those involved in the attacks all trained in Libya, the source said.
    The Tunisian cell exhibited an impressive level of operational trade craft, and at the time of the Sousse attack it was also plotting to attack the French consulate in Tunis, the source disclosed. Those plans were thwarted after Tunisian security services moved against the group after that attack.

    A known terrorist suspect

    Hakim, also known by his fighting name Abu Muqatil, was also a person of interest in the probe of links between the November 2015 Paris attacks and overseas terrorists, according to Jean Charles Brisard, the director of the Center for the Analysis of Terrorism in Paris. Several months before the attacks, he issued a call from Syria for jihadis inside France to launch gun attacks.
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    Hakim was born in Paris and ran in the same extremist circles as the Kouachi brothers, who attacked the Charlie Hebdo satirical magazine in Paris in January 2015. Hakim later traveled to join jihadi efforts in Iraq during the Iraqi insurgency and was handed a seven-year sentence for terrorism offenses on his return.
    Soon after being released, he traveled to Tunisia, where he joined a terrorist cell allegedly responsible for the killing of two secularist-leaning politicians.
    Hakim then traveled to join ISIS. In December 2014, he appeared in an ISIS video claiming responsibility for the assassination of the Tunisian politicians. The US State Department designated him a global terrorist in September 2015.
    Hakim's targeting in a US drone strike was first reported by the French newspaper Le Monde.