U.S. strike targets senior Al Qaeda leader in Syria

The U.S. military claimed it killed Abu Hamzah al Yemeni, a senior leader of the Al Qaeda-linked Hurras al-Din, in “a kinetic strike in Idlib province” in Syria on June 27. The offensive is the first reported against the terror group since September 2021, in which al Yemeni may have been a target.

“Abu Hamzah al Yemeni was traveling alone on a motorcycle at the time of the strike,” U.S. Central Command, or CENTCOM, noted in its press release, and said there is no indication of civilian casualties from the attack.

Al Yemeni’s death has not been confirmed, and he has been reported to have been killed in a U.S. military air strike once in the recent the past.

Al Yemeni’s nom de guerre indicates he may be a Yemeni national, and he is known to be a military commander within Hurras al-Din.

Today’s attack is the first reported against Hurras al-Din’s leadership since Sept. 20, 2021, when CENTCOM targeted an unnamed senior Al Qaeda leader. Abu Al Bara al Tunisi, a Tunisian jihadist leader and ideologue who has proselytized on behalf of the group, is thought to have been the target of the strike.

Interestingly, al Yemeni was reported to have been killed along with al Tunisi during the Sept. 2021 operation, which also was in Idlib.

Despite the defeat of the Islamic State and the loss of its physical caliphate in Iraq and Syria, terror groups are still rampant in Syria, particularly in Idlib province, where Al Qaeda-linked groups hold sway.

Hay’at Tahrir al Sham, an offshoot of Al Qaeda’s Al Nusrah Front which has distanced itself from the global terror group, dominates in Idlib. Hurras al-Din also is anchored in Idlib, and even top Islamic State leaders are known to shelter there. The two previous emirs of the Islamic State were killed during U.S. raids in Idlib.

Hurras al-Din is commanded by senior Al Qaeda veterans, including Abu Hammam al Shami (a.k.a. Faruq al Suri), who was listed as terrorist along with two other leaders, in Sept. 2019. Al Shami also has a $5 million reward from the State Department for information leading to his capture and conviction. Hurras al-Din was also listed as a terrorist organization in Sept. 2019.

In its reward offer, State noted that Al Shami, Abu ‘Abd al-Karim al-Masri, and Sami al-Uraydi “been active in al Qaeda (AQ) for years and remain loyal to AQ leader Ayman al Zawahiri.”

The relationship between Hurras al-Din and Al Qaeda remains strong to this day, according to CENTCOM. In the June 27 press release announcing the strike that targeted al Yemeni, CENTCOM said that “Al Qaeda-aligned organizations such as Hurras al-Din … continue to present a threat to America and our allies.”

Al Qaeda-aligned militants use Syria as a safe haven to coordinate with their external affiliates and plan operations outside of Syria,” CENTCOM concluded.

Bill Roggio is a Senior Fellow at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies and the Editor of FDD's Long War Journal.

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