Veteran Al-Qaeda leader killed in Syria: US

Suicide bombing pioneer and 10 others killed in air strike earlier this month

WASHINGTON • The United States military said it had killed 11 Al-Qaeda operatives, including a veteran leader and suicide bombing pioneer, in a bombing raid in Syria.

The Pentagon said Abu Hani al-Masri, the Al-Qaeda veteran, was one of those killed in the precision air strikes near Idlib carried out on Feb 3 and Feb 4.

Al-Masri was an early official in Al-Qaeda, overseeing the group's training camps in Afghanistan in the 1980s and 1990s, as he worked with Al-Qaeda founder Osama bin Laden and current leader Ayman al-Zawahiri.

There, "he recruited, indoctrinated, trained and equipped thousands of terrorists who subsequently spread throughout the region and the world", the Pentagon said in a statement on Wednesday.

They said he also helped found Egyptian Islamic Jihad, "the first Sunni group to use suicide bombers in their terror attacks".

"These strikes disrupt Al-Qaeda's ability to plot and direct external attacks targeting the US and our interests worldwide," said Pentagon spokesman Jeff Davis.

The US has mostly focused its attacks in Syria on the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria. But in recent months, US forces have also launched several attacks against Al-Qaeda.

Idlib province is largely occupied by the former Syrian branch of Al-Qaeda, Fateh al-Sham, which has been allied to several Syrian rebel groups fighting the government.

Meanwhile, the self-proclaimed mastermind of the Sept 11 attacks wrote to former president Barack Obama to tell him 9/11 was a direct result of American foreign policy and the deaths of innocent people it caused. Khalid Sheikh Mohammed's 18-page letter was addressed to "the head of the snake, Barack Obama", leader of "the country of oppression and tyranny".

Defence attorney David Nevin provided a copy of the letter, which has not yet been posted on the US military's website for Guantanamo proceedings. He told Agence France-Presse that Mohammed began writing it in 2014.

The letter is dated Jan 8, 2015, but reached the White House only two years later, in the last days of Mr Obama's presidency, according to news reports, after a military judge ordered the Guantanamo prison camp where Mohammed is being held to deliver it.

"It was not we who started the war against you in 9/11; it was you and your dictators in our land," Mohammed wrote. He says God was on the side of the hijackers on that fateful day when airplanes were guided into the Twin Towers in New York, the Pentagon and a field in Pennsylvania.

Mohammed, who was waterboarded 183 times in March 2003 and held at a secret Central Intelligence Agency prison site overseas, faces a potential death sentence for allegedly masterminding the plane hijackings.

AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on February 10, 2017, with the headline 'Veteran Al-Qaeda leader killed in Syria: US'. Print Edition | Subscribe