The US-led bombing campaign in Syria is targeting the Al Nusrah Front, an official branch of al Qaeda, as well as the Islamic State, an al Qaeda offshoot that is one of Al Nusrah’s fiercest rivals.
The initial, announced purpose of the aerial strikes was to damage the Islamic State, a jihadist group that has seized large swaths of territory across Syria and Iraq. But in recent days US officials signaled that they were also concerned about al Qaeda’s presence in Syria, including the possibility that al Qaeda operatives would seek to use the country as a launching pad for attacks in the West.
Several well-connected online jihadists have posted pictures of the Al Nusrah Front positions struck in the bombings. They also claim that al Qaeda veterans dispatched from Afghanistan to Syria, all of whom were part of Al Nusrah, have been killed.
US intelligence officials contacted by The Long War Journal confirmed that the Al Nusrah Front has been targeted in the operations, but could not verify any of the specific details reported on the jihadist sites.
Among the Al Nusrah Front positions targeted in the bombings are locations where members of the so-called “Khorasan group” are thought to be located. Ayman al Zawahiri, the emir of al Qaeda, sent the group to Syria specifically to plan attacks against the US and its interests. The group, which takes its name from al Qaeda’s Khorasan shura (or advisory) council, is reportedly led by Muhsin al Fadhli, an experienced al Qaeda operative who has been involved in planning international terrorist attacks for years.
Al Fadhli’s presence in Syria was first reported by the Arab Times in March. Shortly thereafter, The Long War Journal confirmed and expanded on this reporting. [See LWJ report, Former head of al Qaeda’s network in Iran now operates in Syria.] The Long War Journal reported at the time that al Fadhli’s plans “were a significant cause for concern among counterterrorism authorities.”
The New York Times reported earlier this month that al Fadhli leads the Khorasan group in Syria.
Unconfirmed reports on jihadist social media sites say that al Fadhli was killed in the bombings. Neither US officials, nor al Qaeda has verified this reporting. The fog of war often makes it difficult to quickly confirm whether an individual jihadist has been killed, wounded, or survived unscathed.
Jihadists claim that the man shown in the photo to the right is known as Abu Yusuf al Turki, an Al Nusrah “commander” who trained fighters how to become snipers. Al Turki fought in Afghanistan and Iraq and was supposedly killed in the US airstrikes.
One of the twitter feeds reporting al Turki’s death is associated with Sheikh Abdallah Muhammad al Muhaysini, a popular Saudi cleric who is closely tied to Al Nusrah. The feed, which has more than 250,000 followers, provides news on events inside Syria and is also used by the jihadists to raise funds for their efforts.
The feed has posted a series of updates since the bombing campaign began.
In addition to the photo of al Turki, the Twitter page tied to Muhaysini also posted a picture of a building that was reportedly controlled by Al Nusrah in Aleppo before being struck in the bombings. According to the feed, and others, dozens of Al Nusrah Front fighters and leaders have been killed.