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US strike kills jihadist leader in Syria

Fighters of jihadist group Hayat Tahrir al-Sham, which dominates northwestern Syria, carry away a mangled motorcyle after a US drone strike targeting a leader of a rival, Al-Qaeda-linked faction, Hurras al-Deen
— Idlib (Syria) (AFP)

A US drone strike in northwestern Syria killed a Yemeni leader of a local jihadist group affiliated to Al-Qaeda, the US military and a Syrian war monitor said.

The strike, carried out on Monday just before midnight (2100 GMT) on the eastern edge of the city of Idlib, took out a man described as a leader of the Hurras al-Deen group.

"Abu Hamzah al Yemeni was travelling alone on a motorcycle at the time of the strike," US Central Command said in a statement, adding that an "initial review indicates no civilian casualties".

The US is "highly confident" that the strike, carried out from a drone, killed Abu Hamzah al-Yemeni, a US official with knowledge of the operation told CNN, speaking on condition of anonymity.

The Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, which relies on a wide network of sources inside Syria, confirmed on Tuesday that Yemeni was killed in the attack, saying it was the second such attempt to neutralise him after a similar strike last year.

An AFP correspondent in Idlib said that members of Hayat Tahrir al-Sham (HTS), a rival jihadist group that dominates the area, gathered at the scene of the strike shortly after it happened and took away Yemeni's charred remains.

The motorbike, that was reportedly being ridden by jihadist leader Abu Hamzah al-Yemeni at the time of Monday's US drone strike in Syria, was badly damaged

HTS, whose leadership includes many ex-members of Al-Qaeda's former Syria franchise, has tried to cast itself as a credible political force in the Idlib region.

Since a 2020 ceasefire agreement reached by Moscow and Turkey, the main foreign broker in northern Syria, HTS has come under pressure to crack down on the myriad of other jihadist factions still present in the Idlib region.

Monday's strike was the second US operation in June to target a senior jihadist in Syria.

US forces captured Hani Ahmed Al-Kurdi, a leader of the Islamic State (IS) group, on June 16 during a raid in Aleppo province.

They also killed IS leader Abu Ibrahim al-Hashimi al-Qurashi during an operation in Atme, a region of Idlib province, on February 3.

Hurras al-Deen is a relatively small but powerful armed group led by Al-Qaeda loyalists.

It is estimated to have 2,000 to 2,500 fighters in rebel-held Syria, according to the UN.