Middle East

SDF captures prominent French ISIS member Adrien Guihal in Syria

French jihadist claimed attacks in Nice and Magnanville on behalf of ISIS

Another French jihadist allegedly involved in attacks in France, Adrien Guihal, was arrested by a special unit of the Kurdish-led Syrian Democratic Forces in northern Syria.

According to the French government, Guihal, 34, was part of the infamous Artigat network that masterminded several attacks for Islamic State in France.

“He has links to figures in the Artigat network. As early as 2006, when he went to Cairo to study Arabic and the Quran, he was picked up by the French anti-terror sub-directorate due to his links to Fabien Clain, one of the two brothers in the Artigat network,” Joseph Briefel, a Middle East and North Africa analyst Integrity UK who specializes in jihadist groups in Iraq and Syria, told The Defense Post.

Guihal claimed in audio messages that ISIS was responsible for the June 13, 2016 attack that killed two police officers in the French town of Magnanville and the Nice attack on July 14 of that year that killed 87 people.

“We managed to capture a French jihadist and he is in SDF custody now,”  SDF spokesperson Kino Gabriel told The Defense Post on Thursday. “I have no more to say about this right now.”

In December, the SDF arrested three French foreign fighters including one of the country’s most wanted jihadists, Thomas Barnouin, who calls himself Abu Mohamed al-Fransi. This time, the arrests of prominent members of the French ISIS network came as the SDF are carrying out operations against ISIS in the deserts of Deir Ezzor with French and U.S. support.

According France TV Info, Guihal was arrested in the east of Deir Ezzor and being held with his wife and six children in a camp.

“After conducting investigations and follow-up, special units of the Military Intelligence that belong to Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) carried out a special operation on Saturday, 19 May 2018, leading to arrest of a group of ISIS terrorists that was headed by Andrien Guihal, whose nickname is Abu Osama al-Fransi, who has been arrested with his wife,” the SDF said in a statement received by the Defense Post.

“The terrorist Abu Osama is considered one of the most dangerous terrorists in ISIS ranks and had a role in launching the terrorist attacks that hit Paris in November 2015, and also took part in the attacks that hit Nice city in 14 July 2016,” the statement said.

Romain Caillet, a top French experts on jihadism, told The Defense Post that Guihal is a prominent figure in the French jihadist scene and used to be active on jihadist forums.

“He voice was used by several video productions of IS, including the French version of the video called the Golden Dinar, and he presented the French news bulletin of IS in French until the fall of Raqqa,” he said.

“I don’t know if he is linked to attacks in France, but his name stands out in this regard, because he read several claims of attacks during his audio broadcasts on Radio al Bayan,” he added.

Guihal converted to Islam in the early 2000s, and went to Egypt to learn Arabic, according to a profile of him in the Liberation newspaper by French journalist Pierre Alonso. He stayed there at least twice, in the first half of 2006 and most of 2007, and later played a prominent role in the jihadist scene in France and was a moderator for the forum Ansar al-Haq.

“Finally, in France, Allah allowed a Caliphate soldier in the city of Magnanville, near Paris, to kill the deputy chief of police Mureaux and his wife by stabbing, Praise to Allah,” Adrien Guihal said in a broadcast recording for ISIS in 2016.

He was active for more than a decade, according to Caillet.

In 2012, Guihal was sentenced to four years in prison for “belonging to a terrorist organisation” after an investigation into a 2008 plot to car bomb a police station near the Eiffel tower over France’s involvement in Afghanistan.

In 2015, he traveled with a group to Syria, which included prominent jihadist Fabien Clain from Toulouse to join ISIS.

The French judiciary issued an arrest warrant for him in 2015, but failed to stop him from joining ISIS.

Guihal crossed into Syria on March 6, 2015 through the Tal Abyad border gate, at the time considered to be the official border between Turkey and ISIS territory, the SDF said.

According to the SDF, after ISIS lost many cities to the force, including Raqqa, where Guihal was hiding, the militant was looking to escape to Turkey and then to Europe. “But our forces were able to arrest him,” they said.

Now it’s unclear what will happen with Guihal, who is in SDF custody.

In April, Major General Felix Gedney, Deputy Commander, Strategy and Support Combined Joint Task Force Operation Inherent Resolve, said the Coalition was particularly concerned about the hundreds of terrorist fighters in SDF detention facilities in Syria.

“There’s an urgent need to make sure we find a long-term solution to ensure that those individuals do not become a threat to our nations or the globe again. And in particular, we need to make sure we improve the detention facilities,” he added.

A large number of ISIS foreign fighters are French citizens, but France does not want them to return, preferring them to be killed in battle to dealing with hundreds of court cases.

The Defense Post contacted French officials but did not immediately receive a reply. French diplomatic sources have told The Defense Post in the past that all French nationals who joined ISIS in both Syria and Iraq since 2015 to participate in the fighting, or recruitment or organization of terrorist groups are deemed to be participants in criminal association.

“There has been much apathy from France and indeed other EU states about bringing back foreign fighters to their host countries,” Briefel said.

“The French Government has said that jihadists previously captured in Syria, such as Thomas Barnouin, who was arrested at the end of last year and also has links to Fabien Clain, should face local justice if it can be done fairly. The French Government are worried that returning jihadists may try and instigate further attacks in France,” he concluded.

The SDF has pushed European countries to repatriate their citizens, but says it is capable of bringing them to justice.

“It would be better for the countries to take their citizens who were members of Da’ash [ISIS] and try them there, but it seems that they are afraid of this, and if they do not do so we will try them here,” senior Kurdish official Aldar Xelil told The Defense Post in February.

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