US-led coalition says it targetted al-Qaeda in northwest Syria

BEIRUT (AFP) – The United States (US)-led coalition said yesterday its aircraft carried out a strike in northwestern Syria, a day earlier that a monitor reported had killed eight extremists, including commanders, from an al-Qaeda-linked group.

“This operation targetted AQ-S operatives responsible for plotting external attacks threatening US citizens, our partners, and innocent civilians,” US

Central Command said in a statement, using an acronym for Al-Qaeda in Syria. The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, a Britain-based war monitor, said six commanders were among the slain extremists from the Hurras al-Deen group in Aleppo province.

The killed commanders included two Tunisians, two Algerians, an Egyptian and a Syrian, the Observatory added.

“With our allies and partners, we will continue to target Daesh and Al-Qaeda to prevent both groups from using Syria as a safe haven,” US Central Command said, using an Arabic acronym for the Islamic State (IS) extremist group.

Hurras al-Deen maintains ties to al-Qaeda and fights alongside the global extremist network’s former Syria branch, Hayat Tahrir al-Sham (HTS) – which dominates most of Idlib province as well as parts of neighbouring Hama, Aleppo and Latakia.

Since its formation in 2014, the US-led coalition against IS has targetted extremist leaders in Syria’s northwest, but the strikes have dropped off significantly since 2017.

In March 2017, the Observatory said a US-led strike on a mosque in the north of Aleppo province killed 49 people, most of them civilians.

The Pentagon denied that large numbers of civilians were killed or that it had targetted the religious building, acknowledging only one possible civilian death.