Nov 6, 2014 1:03 PM by CBS News
U.S. airstrikes against an al Qaeda cell in Syria thought to be working on plots to attack the West were believed to have killed five of the so-called Khorasan group's members, including a senior bomb maker, U.S. officials told CBS News on Thursday.
Officials told CBS News correspondent David Martin that two U.S. strikes targeted Khorasan, and one of them -- a missile fired from a drone aircraft -- hit a car believed to be carrying Khorasan bombmaker and former French intelligence officer David Drugeon.
According to the officials, it appears Drugeon was killed. The other strike was against Khorasan assembly areas in Syria.
U.S. Central Command said it was still assessing the results of the airstrikes but said that it appears they "resulted in the intended effects by striking terrorists."
"This network was plotting to attack in Europe or the homeland, and we took decisive action to protect our interests and remove their capability to act,"U.S. Central Command said in a statement on Thursday. "We will continue to take any action necessary to disrupt attack plotting against U.S. interests."
Gen. Lloyd Austin, the Central Command commander in charge of U.S. military operations throughout the Middle East, said separately at a Washington forum that he would not discuss results of the strikes until they had been more fully studied.
He suggested, however, the Drugeon may have been hit, or at least targeted.
"He is clearly one of the leadership elements and one of the most dangerous elements in that organization," Austin said. "And so any time we can take their leadership out, it's a good thing."
At the Pentagon, Army Col. Steve Warren said the strikes hit five targets at two locations.
Noting that reports coming out of the region suggest members of other militant groups were hit, Warren that the Khorasan Group was the pre-planned target of the strikes.
The Khorasan Group, he said, "is a group of personnel, some of whom are also al-Nusra affiliated, some of whom are al-Qaida affiliated, some of whom are affiliated with other organizations. But these strikes weren't specifically targeting any of those other organizations. They were targeting the Khorasan group. If a terrorist happens to be a member of both groups, so be it."
A barrage of U.S. cruise missiles aimed at Khorasan targets in Syria in September failed to eliminate the threat from the group, which American intelligence officials have said is working on plots to blow up airplanes over Europe and the United States.
Those strikes on a facility near the sprawling city of Aleppo in northern Syria killed only one or two key members of the group, known as Khorasan, officials have said, because many of the militants had scattered amid news reports highlighting their activities.
It wasn't immediately clear whether U.S. officials believed the latest strikes had killed any senior members of the group apart from Drugeon.
Drugeon, a Frenchman born in Brittany, reportedly converted to Islam as a youth.
Katherine Zimmerman, a senior analyst at American Enterprise Institute and expert on al Qaeda, told CBS News in September that Khorasan is "following bin Laden's vision" and the group's leader, Muhsin al-Fadhli, was one of the few in the terror cell who had knowledge of the 9/11 attacks before they were carried out.
"He is what I consider to be a core al Qaeda member," Zimmerman said. "He was within that inner circle."
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