The United States says it has killed a senior al-Qaeda militant in an air strike in north-western Syria.
A Pentagon statement said Muhsin al-Fadhli was targeted two weeks ago while travelling in a vehicle near Sarmada.
It described Fadhli as the leader of a network of veteran al-Qaeda operatives, known as the “Khorasan Group“, who were allegedly plotting external attacks against the US and its allies.
The Kuwaiti was also reported to have been killed in a US strike last year.
Fadhli was a confidant of Osama Bin Laden and one of the few al-Qaeda members to receive advanced warning of the 11 September 2001 attacks, according to the US.
Shortly before the US began air strikes on Islamic State (IS) across Syria in September, cruise missiles struck two areas near the northern city of Aleppo. The targets were not IS positions, but buildings allegedly used by the Khorasan Group.
US officials said the shadowy organisation was made up of about 50 veteran militants from Afghanistan and Pakistan, which jihadists refer to as Khorasan, as well as North Africa and Chechnya.
They had been sent to Syria by al-Qaeda’s leader, Ayman al-Zawahiri, not to fight the government of President Bashar al-Assad but to “develop external attacks, construct and test improvised explosive devices and recruit Westerners to conduct operations”, the officials claimed.
Fadhli, their alleged leader, was believed to have arrived in Syria in 2013 but kept a low profile.
In 2005, the US treasury department said Fadhli was based in the Gulf and had been providing support to al-Qaeda militants fighting US-led forces in Iraq under Abu Musab al-Zarqawi.
Seven years later, the state department offered a $7m (£4.5m; €6.4m) reward for information that led to the capture or killing of Fadhli, saying he had become the leader of al-Qaeda’s network in Iran and was responsible for the movement of money and fighters for its operations in the region.
Reports on social media following September’s missile strikes said Fadhli was among the dozens of militants who were killed, but they were not confirmed by US intelligence agencies.
On Tuesday night, Pentagon spokesman Capt Jeff Davis announced that they were now confident that the 34 year old had been killed “in a kinetic strike” on 8 July near Sarmada, only 7km (4 miles) from Syria’s border with Turkey.
“His death will degrade and disrupt ongoing external operations of al-Qaeda against the United States and its allies and partners,” he added.
Bruce Riedel, a former CIA analyst who is now at the Brookings Institution, meanwhile told the AFP news agency that Fadhli’s death was a “serious but not fatal” blow to the jihadist network.
Before September’s missile strikes, US intelligence reports indicated that the Khorasan Group was “in the final stages of plans to execute major attacks”.
Classified US assessments said it was collaborating with bomb makers from the Yemen-based al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP) to test ways to get explosives past airport security.
However, some opponents of the Syrian government expressed doubts about whether the Khorasan Group actually existed, saying the US created it to justify attacks on al-Qaeda’s local affiliate, al-Nusra Front.
In May, al-Nusra leader Abu Mohammed al-Julani said in a TV interview that he had been ordered by al-Qaeda leader Ayman al-Zawahiri not to use Syria to launch attacks on the West.
“There is nothing called Khorasan Group. The Americans came up with it to deceive the public,” he insisted.
Britain will not support future EU search and rescue operations to help save migrants from drowning in the Mediterranean Sea as doing so only “encourages” others to seek refuge by crossing dangerous seas.
The Foreign Office said Britain will not help in any future European search and rescue missions as they create an unintended “pull factor” which means more migrants are dying in the ocean as they attempt the hazardous journey to Europe from North Africa.
The decision was made following the announcement that the official Italian search and rescue operation, Mare Nostrum, will soon come to an end after rescuing more than 150,000 migrants from the Mediterranean in the last year.
Its replacement, a limited EU Mediterranean operation codenamed Triton, will begin on 1 November. However, Triton will only operate close to Italian borders and will run on only a fraction of the resources Mare Nostrum had.
Human rights group fear the new system, which will be managed by the European border agency Frontex, will be responsible for “catastrophic and deadly consequences”.
“People fleeing atrocities will not stop coming if we stop throwing them life-rings” – Maurice Wren, British Refugee Council
Confirmation Britain will not be taking part in the new search and rescue operations was given by Foreign Office minister Lady Anelay in response to a question published by the House of Lords website on 15 October.
She said the government believed supporting planned search and rescue operations in the Mediterranean would create “an unintended ‘pull factor’, encouraging more migrants to attempt the dangerous sea crossing and thereby leading to more tragic and unnecessary deaths”.
Anelay added: “The government believes the most effective way to prevent refugees and migrants attempting this dangerous crossing is to focus our attention on countries of origin and transit, as well as taking steps to fight the people smugglers who wilfully put lives at risk by packing migrants into unseaworthy boats.”
The British Refugee Council has condemned the Foreign Office’s refusal to take part in any future searches
Chief executive Maurice Wren told the Guardian: “The British government seems oblivious to the fact that the world is in the grip of the greatest refugee crisis since the Second World War.
“People fleeing atrocities will not stop coming if we stop throwing them life-rings; boarding a rickety boat in Libya will remain a seemingly rational decision if you’re running for your life and your country is in flames. The only outcome of withdrawing help will be to witness more people needlessly and shamefully dying on Europe’s doorstep.
“The answer isn’t to build the walls of fortress Europe higher, it’s to provide more safe and legal channels for people to access protection.”
Amnesty International previously spoke of its fears that Operation Triton will not be enough to save the thousands of migrants who die in the Mediterranean Sea.
“Frontex’s Triton operation does not begin to meet the needs of thousands of migrants and refugees, including those forced to flee war and persecution in the Middle East and Africa. The suggestion that it could replace Mare Nostrum could have catastrophic and deadly consequences in the Mediterranean,” said John Dalhuisen, Amnesty International’s Europe and Central Asia director.
“Triton is a border operation and does not have a search and rescue mandate. It will only operate close to Italian waters and not beyond, where it is most needed. Even Frontex have said that Triton does not have the resources to carry out the work of Mare Nostrum.
“Italy must continue the Mare Nostrum search and rescue operation until there is a better-equipped alternative supported by other European countries – and Triton is certainly not it.”
More than 3,000 migrants died trying to cross the Mediterranean so far this year, according to the International Organisation for Migration.
TEHRAN (FNA)- The Syrian army targeted militants’ concentration centers in Talbisseh, Countryside of Homs, and killed a large number of the terrorists, including the commander of the largest brigade affiliated to the so-called Free Syrian Army (FSA).
“There are a large number of armed terrorist groups. On Tuesday, Talbisseh’s most important terrorist and his brother were killed,” a security source said.
He identified the dead commander as Abu Hatem al-Dahik, head of the militant Al-Iman Brigade.
“We will continue to target the terrorists in all their hideouts,” the source told AFP on condition of anonymity.
The conflict in Syria started in March 2011, when sporadic pro-reform protests turned into a massive insurgency following the intervention of western and regional states.
The unrest, which took in terrorist groups from across Europe, the Middle-East and North Africa, has transpired as one of the bloodiest conflicts in recent history.
As the foreign-backed insurgency in Syria continues without an end in sight, the US government has boosted its political and military support to Takfiri extremists.
Washington has remained indifferent to warnings by Russia and other world powers about the consequences of arming militant groups.