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Top al Qaeda leader killed in US drone strike in Syria: Reports

Al-Masri was a close affiliate to late al-Qaida founder Osama Bin Laden and was once the chairman of the organization’s management council, according to a Washington Post report citing leaked US intelligence documents dating back to 2008.

world Updated: Feb 28, 2017 00:53 IST
Smoke billows from a rebel-held area of Daraa, in southern Syria, following a reported air strike on February 19.
Smoke billows from a rebel-held area of Daraa, in southern Syria, following a reported air strike on February 19.(AFP Photo)

One of al-Qaida’s most senior leaders has been killed by a US drone strike in north-west Syria, a US-based terrorism-tracking website said on Monday.

The SITE Intelligence Group, which monitors extremist groups, said Abdullah Muhammad Rajab Abdulrahman, the deputy to al-Qaeda leader Ayman al-Zawahiri, may have been killed in a US airstrike on an unmarked sedan on Sunday evening. It cited reports circulating on Jihadist social media accounts.

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

Images of the vehicle purported to have been carrying Abdulrahman, known more widely by his nom de guerre Abu al-Khayr al-Masri, 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.

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

Al-Masri was a close affiliate to late al-Qaida founder Osama Bin Laden and was once the chairman of the organization’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 prison exchange with al-Qaida in Yemen in 2015.

A senior official at a rival jihadist faction in northern Syria urged caution over the reports, saying other top al-Qaida officials in Syria had staged their own deaths only to defect from the organization. The official asked not to be identified because of rivalries between the various factions.

There was no immediate comment from the Pentagon.