Al Qaedas alleged deputy leader was killed in a drone strike in northwest Syria, US-based terrorism-tracking website SITE Intelligence said on Monday, citing jihadist sources. The 59-year-old Egyptian national, the deputy of Al Qaeda leader Ayman al-Zawahiri in Syria died in the US drone strike near the city of Idlib, according to the report. On Monday, the Pentagon confirmed it carried out a strike in northwest Syria on Sunday but did not say who the attack had targeted. Photos posted on social media show a car with a gaping hole in its roof after the attack but its windscreen mostly intact. Activists from the Britain-based watchdog Syrian Observatory for Human Rights also reported al-Masri’s death.
Al-Masri, a son-in-law of late Al Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden, was implicated in the 1998 bombings of two US embassies in Tanzania and Kenya in which more than 200 people, mostly civilians, died. He was part of the global jihadist organisation for three decades and was one of Al Qaeda’s most senior leaders. He fought alongside bin Laden in Afghanistan and was a veteran of conflicts in Egypt, Bosnia, Afghanistan and Pakistan according to terrorism experts. He was born Abdullah Muhammad Rajab abd al-Rahman in Kafr al-Shaykh, Egypt, on November 3, 1957, according to the US Treasury Department.
”The Syrian regime claims it is fighting terrorism but it is not. It cut the path for the Free Syrian Army factions to reach Raqqa,” said Col. Abu Firas, a spokesman for the Free Syrian Army, a loose alliance of mainstream rebels. The government ”claims it wants to fight terrorism but in reality it wants terrorism to stay put, because an end to terrorism would mean the end of regime,” he told The Associated Press. He spoke after an opposition delegation met Monday with U.N. mediator Staffan de Mistura to continue talks aimed at resolving Syria’s six-year-old war. The talks, which began last week, have so far been stuck on the agenda.
The government insists the talks should start with an agreement on the need to fight terrorism, while the opposition wants to discuss a political transition. Abu Mohammed al-Golani, leader of the al-Qaida-affiliated Fatah al-Sham Front, criticized the Syrian politicians and rebels taking part in the talks, saying they ”were handing victory” to Assad. His group is a coalition of ultra-conservative insurgent factions.
Back in Idlib, the activist-run Baladi News network published footage of rescuers searching for victims in the rubble of a block destroyed in presumed government or Russian airstrikes on Monday, in the town of Areeha. The Syrian Civil Defense search-and-rescue group said it had counted 15 fatalities. The Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said at least seven civilians and four other unidentified victims had been killed. It blamed the attack on government warplanes.