Syria: Top al-Qaeda leader killed in US airstrike

A top al-Qaeda official was killed in a US drone strike in Idlib, northwest Syria on Sunday, according to reports that emerged on Monday.

Abdullah Muhammad Rajab Abdulrahman, known more widely by his nom de guerre Abu al-Khayr al-Masri, was killed after a missile fired from a drone hit the vehicle he was travelling in, according to SITE Intelligence Group, which cited reports circulating on jihadi social media accounts.

Abdulrahman, was deputy to al-Qaeda leader Ayman al-Zawahiri and was the son-in-law of al-Qaeda founder Osama bin Laden. He had been part of the global militant organisation since its inception.

Images of the vehicle he was reportedly travelling in showed damage to the passenger compartment of the beige Kia sedan but no damage to the engine block. The roof was blown open on the right side of the vehicle.

Middle East Institute scholar Charles Lister, a leading Washington-based analyst of the Syrian conflict, shared the footage believed to be from the scene of the attack.

“As the deputy leader of al-Qaeda globally, the reported death of Abu al-Khayr al-Masri in Syria is the biggest blow to al-Qaeda since the killing of Nasir al-Wuhayshi in Yemen in June 2015,” Lister told The Guardian.

“As a long-time member of al-Qaeda’s central Shura council and one of Ayman al-Zawahiri’s closest long-time confidants, [al-Masri] was jihadi royalty, meaning his death will almost certainly necessitate some form of response, whether from Syria or elsewhere in the world.”

The Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights reported that a top al-Qaeda official was killed in a drone strike, but could not confirm it was al-Masri.

The northwestern province falls largely under the control of an al-Qaeda-linked rebel coalition. Hundreds of thousands of Syrians displaced by fighting are living as refugees there.

Al-Masri was once the chairman of al-Qaeda’s management council, according to a Washington Post report citing leaked US intelligence documents dating back to 2008.

Iranian authorities are believed to have jailed him following the 9/11 attacks before releasing him in a prisoner exchange with al-Qaeda in Yemen in 2015.


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