Drone strike kills 2 al-Qaida commanders in NW Syria
BEIRUT (AP) — A drone strike in northwestern Syria on Sunday killed two senior commanders with an al-Qaida-linked group, opposition activists said.
The Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, an opposition war monitor, said the strike was believed to have been carried out by the U.S.-led coalition, which has been targeting extremists in Syria for years.
The drone strike hit a vehicle carrying the two commanders — a Jordanian and a Yemeni — in the northwestern province of Idlib, the last remaining rebel stronghold in war-torn Syria. Idlib is dominated by al-Qaida-linked militants, and is also home to 3 million civilians.
The Observatory said the men killed were with the al-Qaida-linked Horas al-Din group, Arabic for “Guardians of Religion.” Horas al-Din are hardcore al-Qaida elements who broke away from Hayat Tahrir al-Sham, the strongest insurgent group in the Idlib enclave.
Al-Mohrar Media, an activist collective in northern Syria, said the dead were Horas al-Din’s general military commander, known as Qassam al-Urduni, or “Qassam the Jordanian.” It said the second man was a Yemeni citizen known as Bilal al-Sanaani, the commander of the group’s so-called “desert army.”
In December, a drone strike killed a senior Horas al-Din commander, the Jordanian citizen Bilal Khuraisat, also known as Abu Khadija al-Urduni.
In July last year, the U.S. military said it struck an al-Qaida leadership and training facility in northern Syria, where it said attacks threatening Americans and others were being planned. The U.S. Central Command said in a statement at the time that the strike occurred near the northern province of Aleppo.
In neighboring Lebanon, the Lebanese army said the military carried out an operation in the eastern town of Brital on Sunday liberating 23 people, including women and children, who were kidnapped two weeks ago.
The army said those set free in Brital, which borders Syria, included Syrian citizens who were taken as hostages. It gave no further details.