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Eleven militants with links to Al-Qaeda, including a senior operative, were killed in two U.S. sorties in Syria’s Idlib province, the Pentagon has said. It comes after the opposition on the ground blamed mass loss of civilian life on recent airstrikes in the area.
U.S. warplanes hit “an al-Qaida meeting place” on February 3, killing “10 terrorists” who were inside the building at the time, Pentagon spokesman, Capt. Jeff Davis said in a statement released Wednesday.
Another raid on February 4 targeted a high-profile Al-Qaeda operative Abu Hani al-Masri, believed to be behind multiple terror attacks, including a foiled plot to bomb the U.S. Embassy in Albania in 1998. Al-Masri is said to have belonged to a narrow circle of Al-Qaeda’s top commanders and have had ties to Osama bin Laden as well as the terrorist group’s current leader, Ayman al-Zawahiri.
As one of Al-Qaeda senior leaders, al-Masri had a lengthy record of terrorism-related crimes, going back to the 80s. He “oversaw the creation and operation of many Al-Qaeda training camps in Afghanistan in the 1980s and ’90s, where he recruited, indoctrinated and equipped thousands of terrorists,” the statement reads.
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Pentagon says al-Masri has become the fourth Al-Qaeda leader it killed since the start of the year.
Earlier Pentagon spokesman Eric Pahon reported that the raids on February 3 and February 4 were “two precision strikes” with one of them deliberately targeting al-Masri.
“We are assessing the results of those strikes and will announce definitive results as soon as practicable,” he said in a statement Tuesday.
Meanwhile, opposition activists in the rebel-held Idlib province have been claiming the ongoing bombing campaign in the area is targeting innocent civilians. Reports attributed to opposition sources on the ground say that up to 30 people, mostly women, fell victim to the Tuesday airstrike which targeted the city of Idlib.
With no information on exactly who carried out the strike immediately available, the Russian Defense Ministry was quick to dismiss reports of its alleged role in the bloodshed, calling it an example of “fake news.” The ministry’s spokesman, Major General Igor Konashenkov, said that Russian warplanes “have not conducted a single airstrike in the city of Idlib yesterday, or last week, or even since the beginning of 2017.”
On February 1, the headquarters of the Syrian Red Crescent in the province were badly damaged in the airstrike labeled by the President of the Turkish Red Crescent Kerem Kinik a “clear war crime” perpetrated by the U.S.-led coalition in violation of the international law.
Following the strike, at least four of the Red Crescent staff members suffered injuries and one was in critical condition.
A Pentagon spokesman reported late January that over 150 Al-Qaeda affiliated militants have been killed in U.S. airstrikes since the beginning of 2017. In another “precision airstrike” targeting an Al-Qaeda training camp in Idlib, over 100 “terrorist fighters” were killed.