US-led coalition strike kills IS leader in Syria: Pentagon

Washington (AFP) – The US-led military coalition has killed a leader of the Islamic State jihadist group in Syria, the Pentagon said on Saturday.

“Coalition warplanes targeted and killed Tunisian Boubaker al-Hakim, in Raqa, Syria” on November 26, Pentagon spokesman Ben Sakrisson said in a statement emailed to AFP.

“Al-Hakim was an ISIL leader and longtime terrorist with deep ties to French and Tunisian Jihadist elements,” he added, using an alternate acronym for the IS group.

The 33-year-old Al-Hakim was suspected of involvement in extremist attacks against Tunisian political leaders in 2013, Sakrisson said.

“His removal degrades ISIL’s ability to conduct further attacks in the West and denies ISIL a veteran extremist with extensive ties,” he added.

Hakim’s death also “denies the Islamic State a key figure with extensive historical and current involvement in facilitation and external operations and degrades their ability to conduct terror attacks around the world,” the statement read.

The official confirmation of al-Hakim’s death comes after it was announced on December 2 on the Twitter account of a Syrian group of opponents to Syrian President Bashar al-Assad.

Born in Paris, al-Hakim first fought for Al-Qaeda in Iraq from 2003 to 2004 before joining the IS group.

He was sentenced to seven years in prison in Paris in 2008 for his part in a drive to send young jihadists from France to Iraq. He was released in early 2011.

His network included Cherif Kouachi, one of two brothers who carried out the attack on the satirical magazine Charlie Hebdo in January 2015 that killed 12 people.

In Syria, a US-backed Arab-Kurdish alliance on Saturday announced “phase two” of its campaign for Raqa, the IS group’s Syrian bastion, as Washington said it was sending 200 more troops to back the offensive.

The battle for Raqa coincides with a vast US-backed offensive to retake Iraq’s second city of Mosul.

Raqa and Mosul are the last major urban centers under IS control after the jihadists suffered a string of territorial losses in both countries over the past year.