The U.S. military is believed to have killed two al-Qaeda-linked senior commanders in a drone strike which may have involved a secret U.S. missile.
The Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said the drone strike in Syria occurred on Sunday, according to the Associated Press. The group believes the United States is behind the strike, as the U.S. military has targeted extremists in the region for years.
The drone strike hit a vehicle, killing the commanders inside — a Jordanian named Qassam al-Urduni, also known as “Qassam the Jordanian,” and a Yemeni citizen known as Bilal al-Sanaani, the commander of the group’s so-called “desert army,” according to al-Mohrar Media, an activist collective in northern Syria.
The attack hit in the northwestern province of Idlib, the last remaining rebel stronghold in war-torn Syria. Al-Qaeda-linked militants dominate Idlib, which is home to 3 million civilians.
Al-Urduni and al-Sanaani were with the al-Qaeda-linked Horas al-Din group, an extremist group that broke away from Hayat Tahrir al-Sham, the strongest insurgent group in the Idlib enclave, according to the Observatory. Horas al-Din means “Guardians of Religion” in Arabic.
Unconfirmed images and video on social media show what users claim is the aftermath of the attack on Sunday.
“It was reported that in #Idlib someone shot a car of Qassam Urduni, a height level member of Hurras aDin (al Qaeda branch in Syria), killing him. #Syria,” one user on Twitter speculated. “And according to people on the ground here is a video of the drone that killed one of the leaders of Hurras al Din today near #Idlib #Syria.”
— Vera Mironova (@vera_mironov) June 14, 2020
Another unconfirmed photo on Twitter shows the shredded blast zone in the vehicle:
A vehicle belonging to an unidentified target has been struck by an R9X Hellfire missile on the outskirts of Idlib city, fired by a USAF drone. Another HVT taken out by an American strike. pic.twitter.com/0kqE04f2Kn
— Trenton Schoenborn (@SchoenbornTrent) June 14, 2020
The damage bears similarities to other attacks believed to be carried out by the U.S. involving the highly secretive weapon AGM-114R9X, a specialized variant of the Hellfire missile often called the “Ninja Bomb.” The missile doesn’t detonate like a conventional bomb, instead exploding just before impact with extendable blades for precision and fewer civilian casualties.
The United States has been targeting terrorists in the region for years. As recent as December 2019, the United States was suspected of killing one and possibly two terrorists in northwestern Syria, also with the Ninja Bomb.
The U.S. military previously confirmed a strike on al-Qaeda leadership at a training facility in northern Syria in July 2019. The military added that attacks against Americans and others were being planned at those locations. The strike occurred near the northern province of Aleppo, U.S. Central Command said in a statement at the time.