By BASSEM MROUE
An airstrike has killed a top al-Qaida commander and two other fighters in Syria, activists said Saturday, but it was not immediately clear whether it was carried out by the U.S.-led coalition or Russian warplanes.
The Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said Abdul Mohsen Abdallah Ibrahim al-Charekh, a Saudi better known as Sanafi al-Nasr, was killed Thursday in an airstrike near the northern Syrian town of Dana, along with another Saudi and a Moroccan member of al-Qaida’s local affiliate, known as the Nusra Front.
Russian warplanes have been carrying out airstrikes in Syria since Sept. 30. A U.S.-led coalition has been targeting the Nusra Front and the Islamic State group for more than a year.
The Observatory’s chief Rami Abdurrahman said it was not clear if al-Charekh was killed by U.S. or Russian warplanes. The Observatory, which relies on a network of activists inside Syria, said an Egyptian commander escaped the bombing. It said all four men had been dispatched to Syria by al-Qaida leader Ayman al-Zawahri.
Jihadi activists on social media say al-Charekh was killed by a U.S. drone strike.
Al-Charekh, the alleged leader of al-Qaida’s operations in Syria, was one of six men that the U.N. Security Council imposed sanctions on last year. He was the 49th on a list of 85 most-wanted militants by Saudi Arabia who are outside the kingdom. The list, issued in 2009, includes 83 Saudis and two Yemenis.
“America is offering its services to the Safawi (Iranian) project in the region by removing every brain who confronts this project,” wrote prominent Lebanese jihadi cleric Sirajeddine Zuraiqat on Twitter. Zuraiqat is believed to be in Syria and is wanted in his home country.
The U.S. killed top al-Qaida official Muhsin al-Fadhli in an airstrike three months ago. Some Arab press reports suggested that al-Charekh was a member of the Khorasan group, a secretive cell of al-Qaida operatives who U.S. officials say were sent from Pakistan to Syria to plot attacks against the West.
The Nusra Front’s leader, Abu Mohammed al-Golani, has denied the existence of the Khorasan group.