Russia says its air strike injures Nusra Front leader, kills 12 field commanders

MOSCOW (AFP, Reuters) - Russia said on Wednesday (Oct 4) it had killed 12 field commanders of Al Qaeda’s former Syria affiliate, adding the group’s top leader Abu Mohammed al-Jolani had lost an arm and was in a “critical condition".

Defence ministry spokesman Igor Konashenkov said the strike was the result of a special operation to avenge an attack on Russian military police in Syria on Sept 18.

 “As a result of the strike, the leader of Jabhat al-Nusra Abu Mohammed al-Jolani received multiple serious shrapnel wounds, lost an arm and is in a critical condition, according to several independent sources,” Konashenkov said in a statement.

He said 12 field commanders including al-Jolani’s security chief were also killed along with some 50 guards.  More than 10 fighters received moderate and serious blast injuries, he said, adding that Su-34 and Su-35 jets were used to target the jihadists.

The Moscow-led forces were able to hunt down the militant group using data obtained by Russian military intelligence on Tuesday and struck just when the fighters convened for a meeting. 

The Jabhat al-Nusra, or al-Nusra Front, shed its status as Al Qaeda’s Syrian affiliate in 2016 and became Fateh al-Sham Front. 

Since 2017, it dominates a coalition of militant factions called Hayat Tahrir al-Sham (HTS). 

The alliance controls most of the northwestern province of Idlib after expelling Islamist former allies earlier this year.  Washington and the UN did not recognise the break from Al Qaeda and retained the militants on their terror blacklists.