Omar Diaby, believed to be a leading French recruiter of jihadists in Syria, has declared himself alive after falsely announcing his death to receive medical treatment, France 2 television reported.
Speaking on Skype, Diaby, who also goes by the name Omar Omsen, told a France 2 journalist: “The emir Omar Omsen is not dead. His death was announced for a very precise reason.”
The 40-year-old said his parents had announced his death on Twitter last year so he could “leave Syria to have major surgery in a neighbouring country” while avoiding detection by security services.
France 2, which made contact with Diaby via intermediaries, is due to air a programme Thursday showing footage of the Frenchman’s camp in western Syria’s Latakia province.
France has an international arrest warrant out on Diaby, whom the programme showed running a cell of around 30 young French jihadists, most of them from the southern Nice region like himself.
Operating out of a pine forest, his cell has pledged allegiance to the al Qaeda-affiliated al Nusra Front.
A Syrian cameraman filmed Diaby’s camp for three days, with the jihadist carefully controlling what could be filmed and which fighters could speak.
While Diaby is not suspected of any direct link with the terror attacks in France last year, he expressed approval for the deadly shootings at the satirical newspaper Charlie Hebdo in January 2015.
“Those who insulted the prophet were executed,” he said, referring to Charlie Hebdo’s publication of cartoons of the Prophet Mohammed.
“I wish I’d been chosen to do that,” he added.