Deputy Al-Qaeda Leader Killed In U.S. Airstrike

Al-Masri was reportedly killed in a drone strike in northwestern Syria over the weekend

Members of al Qaeda's Nusra Front man a checkpoint in Idlib, Syria — REUTERS
Feb 27, 2017 at 11:38 AM ET

Al-Qaeda’s second-in-command has reportedly been killed in a U.S. military drone strike in northwestern Syria, and jihadists are already online posting their eulogies for Abu al-Khayr al-Masri. Deputy to present leader Ayman al-Zawahiri, al-Masri has long been wanted by the U.S. for his role in the 1998 bombings of the American embassies in Kenya and Tanzania.

He had reportedly been released from Iranian custody in 2015 and was identified as the deputy of al-Zawahiri last July when he spoke in an audio statement the group posted at the time. Al-Masri was believed to operating inside Syria and influencing the activity of Tahrir el-Sham (HTS), a merger between the previous al-Qaeda affiliate Nusra Front and other Islamist groups that had formed to fight the Assad regime in January 2017.

The grassroots volunteer organization Syrian Observatory for Human rights also reported his death, but there has been no official word released by al-Qaeda. The Pentagon has yet to comment. Videos uploaded to social media allegedly show the vehicle al-Masri was in when it was targeted in the airstrike, with people rushing to pull bodies out of the wreckage.

Social media accounts affiliated with al-Qaeda posted condolences “for our Sheikh al-Zawahiri, al-Qaeda organization and the rest of mujahideen and Muslim nation” on al-Masris’ death, praised al-Qaeda for “still providing martyrs.” Some said al-Masri was killed in retaliation for “the heroic attack in Homs,” referring to an assault carried out by HTS against forces loyal to President Bashar al-Assad in Homs in which 40 fighters were reportedly killed.