Senior Al-Qaeda man killed in US-led air strike in Syria

Muhsin al-Fadhli
Muhsin al-Fadhli

Muhsin al-Fadhli was one of the few who knew in advance of Osama's Sept 11 attacks

WASHINGTON • A US-led coalition air strike has killed the leader of an Al-Qaeda offshoot in Syria accused of plotting attacks against the US and its allies, the Pentagon said.

Muhsin al-Fadhli was killed in a "kinetic strike" on July 8 while travelling in a vehicle near the north- western Syrian town of Sarmada, said a Pentagon spokesman, Captain Jeff Davis, on Tuesday.

He did not say whether it was a drone or a manned aircraft that killed the 34-year-old Fadhli.

Fadhli was allegedly the leader of the Khorasan Group, a group of senior Al-Qaeda members who travelled from Central Asia and elsewhere in the Middle East to Syria to plot attacks against the West.

The Kuwaiti-born militant was so trusted by the inner circle of the late Al-Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden that he was among the few who knew in advance about the Sept 11, 2001 attacks on the US, according to American intelligence.

BLOW TO AL-QAEDA

His death will degrade and disrupt ongoing external operations of Al-Qaeda against the United States and its allies and partners.

PENTAGON SPOKESMAN JEFF DAVIS, who heads the Defence Department's press operations, on the death of Muhsin al-Fadhli

"His death will degrade and disrupt ongoing external operations of Al-Qaeda against the United States and its allies and partners," said Captain Davis, who heads the Defence Department's press operations.

"This is a significant blow to Al-Qaeda's top terror team," said former CIA analyst Bruce Riedel, now at the Brookings Institution. "Ayman Zawahri created the Khorasan group to bring together the best (Al-Qaeda) operatives to Syria to target the West, and now their leader is apparently dead."

Captain Davis said Fadhli was also involved in the October 2002 attacks against US Marines on Kuwait's Failaka island and on the MV Limburg, a French oil tanker.

He was reportedly targeted in an American air strike last September, but his death was not confirmed by US officials then.

Officials say Khorasan is part of Al-Qaeda's Syrian branch, Al-Nusra Front, though experts and activists have cast doubt on the distinction between the two groups.

In an interview last September, President Barack Obama listed Khorasan as among the "immediate threats to the US", warning that "those folks could kill Americans".

The State Department posted a US$7 million (S$9.5 million) reward for information leading to Fadhli's death or detention.

The terrorist was wanted by the law enforcement authorities in Kuwait, Saudi Arabia and the US for terrorist activities.

The diminutive fighter - US intelligence says he stood at just 1.65m - fought alongside the Taleban and Al-Qaeda in Pakistan, according to the State Department. The US National Counterterrorism Centre has said he had become Al-Qaeda's senior leader in Iran.

Fadhli was a major facilitator to late militant Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, who once led Al-Qaeda in Iraq, and other fighters against US and multinational forces.

The US Treasury has alleged that Fadhli provided financial and material support to Zarqawi's network and Al-Qaeda. And the UN Security Council's Al-Qaeda Sanctions Committee cited him in 2005 for his role in planning, facilitating and financing attacks, triggering a freeze on his assets and a travel ban.

AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE, NEW YORK TIMES

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on July 23, 2015, with the headline 'Senior Al-Qaeda man killed in US-led air strike in Syria'. Print Edition | Subscribe