Pentagon Press Secretary Peter Cook briefs reporters Nov. 22, 2016, at the Pentagon in Washington, D.C.

Pentagon Press Secretary Peter Cook briefs reporters Nov. 22, 2016, at the Pentagon in Washington, D.C. (Jette Carr/Department of Defense)

WASHINGTON — Two members of the Islamic State group involved in planning the deadly November 2015 terrorist attack in Paris were among three militants killed last week in an airstrike in Syria, the Pentagon said Tuesday.

The men – identified as Salah Gourmat, Sammy Djedou and Walid Hamman – were riding in a vehicle in Raqqa when they were killed, said Navy Capt. Jeff Davis, a Pentagon spokesman. All three were planning more attacks on Western targets, Davis said.

Information collected recently from territory retaken from the Islamic State group in Iraq and Syria helped the U.S.-led coalition with targeting the Dec. 4 drone strike inside Raqqa, the terrorist group’s de facto capital in Syria, Pentagon Press Secretary Peter Cook said.

“As the coalition and our local partners continue to take territory from [the Islamic State group] on the ground in both Iraq and Syria, this strike highlights our relentless efforts to simultaneously target [the group’s] members who seek to attack the United States, our interests, and our allies around the world,” Cook said.

A senior U.S. military official, who spoke on condition of anonymity, said last week that the Operation Inherent Resolve coalition has killed some 50,000 Islamic State fighters in the last two years, as it has ousted the terrorist group from vast stretches of land across Iraq and Syria.

Iraqi security forces backed by the coalition are now battling the Islamic State group inside Mosul, its final urban stronghold in Iraq. Davis said Tuesday that city was between 15 and 20 percent cleared of the militants, but it could take several months of intense fighting before they are fully ousted.

Meanwhile, the U.S.-backed Syrian Democratic Forces have moved within about 15 miles of Raqqa from the north, and they have launched a second attack from the northwest that is moving slowly toward the city, Davis said. Those operations are designed to prepare Raqqa for an eventual assault to remove the Islamic State group.

Cook said Tuesday that Gourmat and Djedou were involved in the planning for the Nov. 13 attack on Paris that left 130 people dead and 350 wounded. They were close associates of Abu Muhammad al-Adnani, one the Islamic State group’s top leaders in propaganda and terrorist operations planning, who was killed in a coalition airstrike in August.

Gourmat was a French national who had been working on terrorist attacks in Europe, the Middle East and North Africa, Davis said. He was involved in financing the Paris attack and had worked to inspire lone wolf attacks.

Djeou, a Belgian national, was involved in recruiting foreign fighters and preparing them to attack in the West, including the Paris attack, Davis said.

Hamman, a French national, was involved in planning suicide attacks in western Europe, Davis said. He was convicted in absentia in Belgium for his role in a 2015 terror plot that was disrupted by that country’s government. He was a long-known terrorist in France who joined the Islamic State group in 2013 and participated in the group’s capture of Mosul in June 2014.

The trio had been working in a network under another Islamic State terrorist plotter, Boubaker Al-Hakim, who was killed in a November airstrike, Cook said.

The Islamic State has additional militants focused on attacking the West, Davis said. Killing those individuals preparing to strike the United States and its allies is the coalition’s No. 1 goal, he said.

“First and foremost in our minds is always protecting the American people,” Davis said. “When and where we see those who are involved in external plotting, [attacking them] is always going to rise to the top in terms of our priority level.” Twitter: @CDicksteinDC

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Corey Dickstein covers the military in the U.S. southeast. He joined the Stars and Stripes staff in 2015 and covered the Pentagon for more than five years. He previously covered the military for the Savannah Morning News in Georgia. Dickstein holds a journalism degree from Georgia College & State University and has been recognized with several national and regional awards for his reporting and photography. He is based in Atlanta.

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