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Key Figure in Paris, Brussels Attacks Slapped With Sanctions

FILE - People pay tribute to victims outside Le Carillon restaurant, one of the attack sites in Paris, Nov. 16, 2015.

The U.S. is taking aim at an Islamic State terror group operative thought to have played a key role in launching the terror attacks on both Paris and Brussels.

On Tuesday, the State Department sanctioned Abdelilah Himich, a Moroccan-born Frenchman thought to be based out of Syria.

Himich, also known as Abu Sulayman al-Firansi, founded the Tariq Ibn Ziyad Battalion, a cell of up to 300 European foreign fighters that had been active in Iraq, Syria and elsewhere.

The State Department also identified Himich as a key figure in the November 2015 Paris terror attack that left 130 dead, as well as the March 2016 bombing in Brussels that killed 32.

FILE - Police in riot gear protect one of the memorials to the victims of the Brussels attacks in Brussels, March, 27, 2016.
FILE - Police in riot gear protect one of the memorials to the victims of the Brussels attacks in Brussels, March, 27, 2016.

This past October, a U.S. counterterrorism official told ProPublica — an independent, nonprofit news organization that produces investigative public interest journalism — that Himich played a key role in the attacks.

"We believe he is one of the top guys involved in spearheading the Paris attack and the Brussels attacks," the official said. "He was involved in creating that infrastructure."

Several IS defectors have also identified Himich as the leader of IS operations in Europe.

According to the Counter Extremism Project, Himich joined the French Foreign Legion in 2008 and served in Afghanistan before deserting two years later.

Others sanctioned

The State Department also sanctioned two other IS officials Tuesday — Abdullah Ahmed al-Meshedani and Basil Hassan.

Meshedani is a senior adviser to IS leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi. He is also responsible for managing foreign fighters who have made their way to Syria and Iraq, and for transporting suicide bombers.

Hassan, an IS operations planner, had been in Turkish custody but was released as part of a deal to free 49 hostages. He had also been accused in the shooting of Danish author and journalist Lars Hedegaard.

U.S. officials have touted sanctions as a key tool in combating IS, as they deny IS members access to the U.S. financial system.

VOA National Security Correspondent Jeff Seldin contributed to this report.