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US blacklists mystery French chemical terrorist

© AFP | Although hundreds of French men are believed to have joined jihadist groups like the Islamic State -- whose flag flies over the ruins of the onetime IS de facto capital Raqa in Syria -- Joe Asperman's name has not previously been reported

WASHINGTON (AFP) - 

The United States on Thursday identified a Frenchman it says provided chemical weapons to the Islamic State group and whose name, previously unreported, came as a surprise to French experts.

US officials described Joe Asperman as being born in the Cannes region of southern France between 1986 and 1988 and as "a senior chemical weapons expert" for the IS group in Syria.

He has now been listed as a "Specially Designated Global Terrorist," placing him under US sanctions with notorious militants that Washington believes pose a threat outside their immediate battlefield.

But they provided few details and French officials and experts alike said they had never heard the name of a suspect who does not appear to have attracted the attention of Paris authorities.

"Asperman oversaw chemical operations production within Syria for ISIS and the deployment of these chemical weapons at the battlefront," the US State Department said, announcing the designation.

Along with Bashar al-Assad's Damascus regime, the Islamic State group has also been accused of deploying chemical attacks in Syria, where it is one of the factions in the long-running civil war.

Although hundreds of French fighters are known to have travelled to the Middle East to fight with jihadist groups -- and Cannes has been a French recruiting ground -- Asperman's name was not widely known.

Several French experts, including Jean-Charles Brisard of the Center for the Analysis of Terrorism, confirmed to AFP the name had not previously been known as a suspect.

And on Twitter, former French intelligence officer Claude Moniquet, now of the European Strategic Intelligence and Security Center," said it had "never, until today, circulated publicly."

Several other French suspects have been placed on the US "global terrorist" list, including bomb-maker Ahmad Alkhald, jihadist recruiter Omar Diaby and alleged IS executioner Maxime Hauchard.

US citizens and residents are forbidden from doing business with SDGTs, and any assets they hold in areas under US jurisdiction are forfeit.

The designation also serves as a warning to law enforcement worldwide to be on the look-out for the suspects, and is a sign that US intelligence deems the individual or group an important target.

"This designation seeks to deny Asperman the resources he needs to plan and carry out further terrorist attacks," the statement said.

But US officials told AFP that they could reveal no more information about the mysterious Asperman, and it was not clear whether the designation would have any immediate impact on his operations.

In addition to Asperman, the State Department also designated the Katibat al-Imam al-Bukhari, an armed group it describes as an Al Qaeda ally and "the largest Uzbek fighting force in Syria."

© 2018 AFP