From football stadiums to international jihad, the 24-year-old Frenchman who was likely killed in US air strikes in Syria converted as a teen to Islam before joining increasingly radical groups.
David Drugeon is thought to have been travelling in a car in Syria’s Idlib province when a drone strike hit the vehicle and likely killed him and the driver, a US official and media reports said Thursday.
Born in 1989 in the western city of Vannes into a middle-class family, he became passionate about football and would travel to the southern city of Marseille with his father to see his favourite team, OM, play.
When his parents divorced in 2002, Drugeon and his brother Cyril drew close to ultraconservative Salafist Muslims who would gather in their district.
The two brothers quickly converted to Islam and David became known as “Daoud”, started learning Arabic and studied the Koran.
On his page on “Copains d’avant”, a Facebook-style French website, he is seen posing in a white shirt, unsmiling.
On his list of “countries I dream of going to”, he wrote: “Afghanistan, Algeria, Saudi Arabia, Ethiopia, Iraq, Israel, Morocco, Pakistan, Somalia, Sudan, Syria.”
“He was a really nice guy who didn’t cause trouble. A football enthusiast,” a former classmate in Vannes who wanted to remain anonymous told AFP.
A woman whose daughter was in his class added: “His father was a bus driver. The boy studied hard. We don’t understand what went through his head.”
After having worked and saved money, Drugeon eventually went to Egypt and studied in religious schools where he deepened his knowledge of the Koran and of Arabic.
He returned to France and at the start of 2010, and told his family he was going back to Egypt. But like many other international volunteers, he went down the jihad route and travelled to tribal zones in Pakistan.
There he met a Belgian man of Tunisian origin, jihad veteran Moez Garsallaoui who was considered as an important member of Al-Qaeda in Europe and then in the Pakistan-Afghanistan region.
He taught “Daoud” how to handle explosives and make bombs.
A security source, who asked not to be identified, said he became a “relatively good” explosives expert.
‘I HAVE PREPARED MYSELF’
But unlike what previous media reports about Drugeon said, “he is not a former soldier nor a former member of domestic or external intelligence services,” according to a top-level French official.
“He is well known to our intelligence services and those of the United States, he is quite important in his organisation, with some technical knowledge. But you don’t learn to handle bombs in the French army.”
As the conflict in Syria progressed and the country became a “land of jihad”, Drugeon — like many middle-ranking Al-Qaeda operatives fed up of constantly living under the treat of US drones and their missiles — left the Pakistan-Afghanistan area and set up shop in Idlib.
There, he was likely killed by the strike, a US defence official told AFP Thursday on condition of anonymity.
“He was among the targets. We think we got him,” the official said, adding it would take time to confirm his death with absolute certainty.
Drugeon is suspected of working with Al-Qaeda veterans in what Washington calls the Khorasan Group, which American officials say is a dangerous militant cell plotting to attack Western countries.
His father Patrice Drugeon told French weekly L’Express late last month: “I have prepared myself. Every evening, I expect to see two police officers knock on my door to deliver terrible news.”