A senior Al-Qaida official was killed in air strikes Sunday night that killed at least 21 other militants in Idlib province, an extremist stronghold in northern Syria, according to monitoring groups.
The SITE Intelligence Group, which monitors extremist websites, said Abu Firas al-Souri died in U.S. strikes. The Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights says the jets were thought to belong to the Syrian or Russian Air Forces. It said they targeted the headquarters of Jund al-Aqsa, an extremist group that fights alongside al-Qaida's Syrian affiliate, the Nusra Front. Abu Firas al-Souri was the former official spokesman for the Nusra Front, the group reported on social media Monday. A 2014 biographical video about al-Souri, obtained by SITE, says he used to represent Osama bin Laden in Pakistan after he met the al-Qaida founder in Afghanistan during the war against the Soviet Union in the 1980s.
Al-Souri, born outside Damascus in 1949, followed the path of many Syrian militants. A graduate of the country's military college, he trained militant cells in the country between 1977 and 1980, heading several operations against the authorities for the latter part of that period. He was expelled from the Syrian military in part because of his militant ties in 1979. He fled to Jordan in 1980 then to Afghanistan in 1981 where he trained militants coming to the war-torn country from across Asia and the Arab world. He became an associate of bin Laden and Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, a senior al-Qaida commander who led the organization's affiliate in Iraq following the 2003 U.S. invasion. Al-Souri participated in a number of major military operations in Afghanistan and Pakistan before transferring to Yemen in 2003. In 2013, the al-Qaida leadership transferred him to Syria to mend the growing rift between the group and DAESH. A media outlet belonging to the Lebanese militia Hezbollah said al-Souri's son was also killed in the air strikes.