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FRANCE

French jihadist killed in Syria "was target"

Benghalem appeared in an Islamic State propaganda video last February
Benghalem appeared in an Islamic State propaganda video last February

One week after the French government admitted that French citizens may have been killed in an airstrike in Syria, a leading French newspaper has claimed that a French citizen was actually the main target.

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The article published in Le Monde claims that 35 year old Salim Benghalem whocdied Raqqa in northern Syria during the night of the 8th October, was deliberately killed by the French airforce.

The paper claims that the American secret service had informed French counterparts that Benghalem was responsible for recruiting French people and other French speakers to the Islamic State armed group.

A week ago, French officials admitted that "some foreign fighters, including French citizens" may have been killed in the strike on a training camp, but assured that they were unaware of their identities.

But information obtained by the daily suggests that the American State Department had Benghalem on their blacklist of individuals and organisations suspected of terrorist intentions since September 2014 and had shared the information with the French.

Le Monde also claims that the planning of the operation suggests that the authorities were targetting him. Several sites were identified in advance for the airstrike. The one chosen in the end was small and enclosed by a wall, posing the question as to whether it is was indeed of sufficient size to house a training camp. Furthermore, the French authorities know the identities of two other French citizens who were killed in the attack, according to the paper.

If this proves to be true, it poses complicated legal questions. Non-governmental organisations, such as Human Rights Watch have denounced the strike as an "extra-judicial execution".

French authorities have justified their actions as "legitimate collective defence" in line with article 51 of the United Nations Charter. Last month, the United Kingdom claimed that it had killed two of its own citizens in Syria, using the same UN Charter article as justification.

But the director for the UN Comittee against Terrorism, Jean-Paul Laborde told Le Monde that the legal consensus on the use of Article 51 in this context remains uncertain.

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