Commander of militant group killed in raid

AMMAN • The top military commander of militant group Jabhat Fateh al Sham, the former Al-Qaeda offshoot in Syria, has been killed in an aerial raid that targeted a meeting of its leaders, both the group and rebel sources have said.

Abu Hajer al Homsi, also known as Abu Omar Saraqeb, was killed in a rural area of Aleppo province on Thursday, they said.

The group, formerly known as the Nusra Front, has played an instrumental role in ongoing battles against Syrian army troops and Iranian-backed Shi'ite militias in the gateway city of Aleppo.

An announcement by the group said he was "martyred" in an air strike in the countryside of Aleppo.

A rebel source said initial information suggested it was most likely a United States jet that struck the hideout.

Since the US-led coalition was launched, air strikes have targeted Nusra Front figures in Syria, killing scores. But this one marked the first time a key figure had been targeted since the group's name change.

Abu Omar Saraqeb was a founding member of the group, and he was among the Islamists who fought US forces in Iraq following the American invasion in 2003 before returning to Syria.

The group's leader, Abu Mohammad al-Jolani, was apparently not at the meeting. Few other details emerged of the strike, but a photo of another top figure known as Abu Muslim al Shami was circulated on social media, showing him alive, in an effort to refute reports that he had also been killed.

The Nusra Front announced in July that it was ending its relationship with Al-Qaeda, the global terror network founded by Osama bin Laden, so world powers would no longer have a pretext to inflict civilian casualties.

The move was dismissed by Washington, which said it would not alter its stance on the organisation, which is listed as a terrorist group and remains a fair target.

REUTERS

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on September 10, 2016, with the headline 'Commander of militant group killed in raid'. Print Edition | Subscribe