U.S.-led coalition checking if French jihadist killed in Syria: sources

PARIS (Reuters) - The U.S.-led coalition fighting Islamic State is verifying whether an air strike in Syria killed French jihadist Fabien Clain, who voiced a recording claiming the November 2015 attacks on Paris, U.S. and French sources said on Thursday.

Clain became known as the French voice of Islamic State after he read out the six-minute statement. In the recording, a man, believed to be his brother, gave a rallying cry to music for Muslims to fight the infidels “without ever capitulating”.

“Checks are being made,” a French source said. A U.S. official in Washington said the coalition “believes” Clain was killed in a strike on Wednesday.

France Info radio and BFM TV reported earlier that Clain had been killed and his brother Jean-Michel seriously wounded after a coalition strike in Baghouz, the final pocket held by the militants in northeastern Syria.

French authorities estimate that about 100 French jihadists may still be fighting in the Baghouz area and say dozens are being held by Kurdish-led groups in northern Syria.

“During coalition operations to regain the Islamic State’s last bastion, it is possible indeed that Fabien Clain was killed,” French Defence Minister Florence Parly said on her Twitter account.

She added that the French people would be relieved if the information were confirmed.

Clain is a veteran jihadist, jailed in the past for recruiting militant fighters and believed by French authorities to have fled to Syria in 2015.

They believe he played a bigger role in the Nov. 13 attacks, the worst in France since World War Two, than simply recording the claim. A squad of gunmen and suicide bombers killed 129 people and injured more than 350 in the attack on entertainment venues in the French capital.

Clain converted to Islam in the late 1990s. Like his younger brother, he is believed by French police to have become radicalized in the early 2000s when he lived in the southern city of Toulouse where he frequented radical networks.

He was involved in the militant recruitment “Artigat cell”, French officials have said. Members of that cell were believed to have been mentored by Salafist preacher Olivier Corel, known locally as the “white emir”.

France’s military and foreign ministry declined to comment.

Reporting by Michel Rose, John Irish, Idrees Ali and Sophie Louet; Editing by Richard Lough, Inti Landauro and Frances Kerry