Pentagon: 3 ISIS leaders killed in airstrike

Story highlights

  • A US-led coalition airstrike killed three ISIS leaders in Syria
  • The ISIS leaders targeted were plotting attacks against the West

(CNN)Three ISIS leaders were killed last week by a coalition airstrike in ISIS' self-declared capital, Raqqa, Syria, the Pentagon said Tuesday.

Two of the targets, Salah Gourmat and Sammy Djedou, were directly involved in plotting the November 13, 2015, Paris attacks, Pentagon Press Secretary Peter Cook said in a statement. The third, Walid Hamam, was a suicide attack planner who was convicted in absentia in Belgium for a terror plot disrupted last year.
Hamam was given a five-year sentence for being part of the terrorist network of Abdelhamid Abaaoud, the ringleader of the Paris attacks. Previously, Abaaoud had coordinated a gun and bomb plot being hatched in Belgium that was thwarted by a Belgian commando raid in the eastern town of Verviers in January 2015.
While the plot was being developed, Hamam was part of an ISIS logistical cell in Athens that assisted Abaaoud and made arrangements for operatives to return to Europe to launch attacks as well as for militants to travel to Syria, according to court documents obtained by the Paris-based Center for the Analysis of Terrorism and shared with CNN.
Like many European ISIS recruits, Hamam had a criminal past and was convicted in 2010 on drug-trafficking charges, according to the court documents. He became involved with a cluster of extremists based in the French town of Trappes and traveled to fight in Syria in December 2013, according to the court documents.
Hamam was arrested in Lebanon in June 2014 as he deliberated over whether to launch a suicide attack in Beirut, according to the documents. After his release, he traveled to Greece.
After an international dragnet was launched in January 2015 following the thwarting of the Verviers plot, both he and Abaaoud escaped arrest in Greece and returned to Syria. Hamam used a fake identity to travel to Greece, with subsequent investigations establishing he was twice detained and let go by Greek authorities, according to the court documents.
Djedou was a 27-year-old Belgian-Ivorian ISIS operative who traveled from Belgium to Syria more than three years ago with other extremists radicalized by the notorious Brussels-based recruiter Jean-Louis Denis, according to Belgian court documents obtained by CNN.
According to Guy Van Vlierden, a reporter at Het Laatste Nieuws who tracks Belgian foreign fighters at the blog emmejihad, Djedou grew up in the Brussels district of Laeken and has a Belgian mother and a father from the Ivory Coast and was radicalized after converting to Islam at age 14.
A close friend of Djedou's family confirmed his death to Amarnath Amarasingam, a researcher at the George Washington University Program on Extremism. Amarasingam told CNN he was contacted months ago by Djedou's mother, who asked him if he could find out anything about his condition.
Djedou had been injured in January, Amarasingam said.
Gourmat, a French ISIS operative, was a former member of the France-based extremist outfit Forsane Alizza, and after joining ISIS, became head of a brigade dedicated to striking the West, Jean-Charles Brisard, the director of the Center for the Analysis of Terrorism, told CNN.
The leaders were working to plot and carry out attacks on on the West, the Pentagon said, and were a part of a terror network run by Boubaker Al-Hakim, who was killed in an earlier coalition airstrike on November 26.
Coalition airstrikes have successfully targeted five top ISIS external plotters within the last month. The Pentagon attributed this success to intelligence material and coordination with local partners.
The news comes after the US announced it would send up to 200 additional troops to Syria to help train and assist US-backed local forces that are driving towards Raqqa. Defense Secretary Ash Carter said he expects the fight against ISIS to continue "for some time" even if Raqqa and Mosul are retaken.