Islamic State drone kills two Kurdish fighters, wounds two French soldiers

BAGHDAD/PARIS (Reuters) - A booby-trapped drone launched by Islamic State (IS) militants killed two Kurdish Peshmerga fighters and wounded two French soldiers earlier this month north of the IS-controlled city of Mosul, Kurdish and French officials said on Wednesday.

The drone blew up when Peshmerga fighters tried to lift it after it crashed to the ground, Jabbar al-Yawar, secretary general of the autonomous Kurdish region’s defense ministry, told Reuters. “It seems it was booby-trapped.”

The French newspaper Le Monde reported on Tuesday that the drone had been intercepted in flight on Oct. 2 and exploded near the Kurdish and French soldiers when it hit the ground. It was unclear, Le Monde said, whether the drone was remotely detonated or carried a timed bomb.

Yawar, speaking from Erbil, capital of Iraqi Kurdistan, said the French soldiers had been training Kurdish fighters near the site of the drone crash near the town of Dohuk.

Peshmerga forces plan to take part in a planned U.S.-backed Iraqi military offensive to oust Islamic State from Mosul, Iraq’s second-largest city and the last urban center still under IS control in Iraq after a series of government offensives to reverse the jihadists’ lightning seizure of territory in 2014.

The U.S.-led coalition has in the past shot down Islamic State drones, which could be bought online and were mostly used for surveillance, and was moving in more capabilities to deal with them, Colonel John Dorrian, a spokesman for the coalition, told reporters in Washington on Wednesday.

A U.S. Defense Department official, speaking on the condition of anonymity, said a guidance had been sent to coalition troops to not pickup drones that had crashed.

The U.S.-led coalition against IS includes French, British, Canadian and other Western military contingents.

The two wounded French soldiers were immediately returned to France for medical treatment and one of them was “between life and death”, according to Le Monde. It said other French soldiers were also lightly wounded by the blast but gave no details.

French government spokesman Stephane Le Foll confirmed the injuries.

“Yes. They were injured by a drone that landed and then exploded,” he told reporters after a weekly cabinet meeting.

France has about 500 troops in Iraq as part of a U.S.-led coalition The numbers include special forces that have been training Kurdish Peshmerga forces.

In anticipation of the offensive to dislodge them from Mosul, IS militants have placed booby traps across the city, dug tunnels and recruited children as spies, according to Iraqi and U.S. officials.

Reporting by John Irish, Jean-Baptiste Vey and Marine Pennetier in Paris, Maher Chmaytelli and Ahmed Rasheed in Baghdad, and Idrees Ali in Washington.; Writing by Astrid Wendlandt; Editing by Toby Chopra and Alan Crosby