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Leading Algerian jihadist killed in Syria in May: French official

 Leading Algerian jihadist Said Arif was killed in Syria in May by a US drone, French officials speaking on condition of anonymity told AFP on Thursday.



Paris: Leading Algerian jihadist Said Arif was killed in Syria in May by a US drone, French officials speaking on condition of anonymity told AFP on Thursday.

The death of the 49-year-old, considered a major recruiter of foreign fighters for jihadist groups in Syria, had been reported on social media in recent months but had not been confirmed until now.

Arif was a deserter from the Algerian army who first joined Al-Qaeda camps in Afghanistan in the 1990s.

He was arrested in 2003 and put on trial in France with 25 others accused of plotting to blow up the Eiffel Tower and attack shopping centres and police stations.

Arif was also accused of planning an attack on a Christmas market in the eastern French city of Strasbourg.

In 2007, he was sentenced to 10 years in prison for the planning of those attacks but was released in 2011.

A court ordered that he be expelled from France but the European Court of Human Rights blocked any attempt to send him to Algeria on the basis that he risked being tortured.

Instead, he was ordered to remain under house arrest in a hotel in the small town of Brioude in central France, where he was frequently filmed by media walking to his daily appointments at the local police station, with a long white beard.

In an interview with a local newspaper he said "suicide attacks that have an economic impact are the best form of attack for Islamists". Such statements earned him an even longer sentence.

One morning in May 2013, he disappeared, having stolen a car belonging to the hotel owner`s daughter-in-law.

The car was spotted in Belgium, from where Arif travelled to Syria. 

There, he rose to become one of the leaders of the Jund al-Aqsa jihadist group, part of the coalition with the Al-Nusra Front.

In 2004, the United States added him to the list of "Designated Global Terrorists" and intelligence services considered him one of the main recruiting sergeants for foreign volunteers, especially French speakers.

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