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Reports: US drone strike kills 2 senior Al Qaeda leaders in Syria

A MQ-9 Reaper US military unmanned aerial vehicle prepares to land after a mission in support of Operation Enduring Freedom in Afghanistan. (Staff Sgt. Brian Ferguson/Air Force)
October 16, 2020

U.S. Forces carried out a drone strike Thursday which reports say killed two senior Al Qaeda operatives in near Idlib, Syria.

Maj. Beth Riordan, a spokesman for U.S. Central Command (CENTCOM) confirmed in an emailed statement to American Military News, “U.S. forces conducted a strike against Al Qaeda in Syria (AQ-S) in the vicinity of Idlib, Syria, October 15. AQ-S continues to present a threat to America and our allies.”

Riordan did not provide specifics of the Al Qaeda targets of the Thursday strike. Fox News reported the strike targeted two senior Al Qaeda operatives and was coordinated by the U.S. military’s elite Joint Special Operations Command (JSOC).

Charles Lister, a senior fellow at the Middle East Institute (MEI), on Thursday, tweeted, “BREAKING – Senior #AlQaeda operatives Abu Dhar al-Masri & Abu Yusuf al-Maghrebi (both expelled/defected from Huras al-Din) have been killed in a U.S. drone strike outside Arab Said in #Idlib. They’d been wanted by #HTS too.”

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“Abu Dhar al-Masri had been a ringleader in fueling an internal dispute within Huras al-Din in June 2019, when ultra-hardliners refused to allow HaD fighters to contribute towards fighting #Assad on frontlines run by #HTS (& influenced by #Turkey),” Lister’s tweet thread continued.

HTS refers to Hay’at Tahrir al-Sham, a Sunni Islamist militant group fighting against the Syrian government. Huras al-Din (HaD) is another faction in the Syrian civil war, which also splintered from HTS.

Lister noted previous rumors Abu Dhar was killed in a U.S. drone strike, as well as rumors that HTS militants have provided intelligence to the U.S. by way of Turkey.

A U.S. drone strike was rumored to have killed Abu Dhar on June 30, 2019 — sparking rumors that #HTS, or elements within #HTS, may have been sharing intel on #AlQaeda loyalists to #Turkey (& then the U.S.) Those rumors have persisted & this strike will fuel them further.”

“[For what it’s worth], reports from the ground say a child & possibly a woman were also in the vehicle — another Hyundai Santa Fe, seemingly a favorite for #AlQaeda in #Syria,” Lister added.

Idlib, in northwestern Syria, is one of the last remaining holdouts for a number of factions fighting Syrian government forces in the ongoing Syrian Civil War.

Last year, ISIS leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi was tracked down by U.S. forces to a compound in Idlib, where, after special forces operatives surrounded his compound, Baghdadi killed himself with a suicide bomb.

Around 500 U.S. troops are currently deployed to Syria in missions to assist Kurdish fighters fighting ISIS.