BEIRUT (AP) — A senior commander in Syria's rebranded al-Qaida affiliate, who was close to the global network's top leader Ayman al-Zawahri, has been killed in an airstrike, the group said Monday.
The Fatah al-Sham Front, previously known as the Nusra Front, announced the death of Ahmed Salama Mabrouk shortly after the Pentagon said the U.S. had targeted a prominent member of the group in Syria.
In Washington, Pentagon spokesman Peter Cook said Mabrouk was targeted in the airstrike by U.S. forces, but did not confirm his death, saying that the results of the strike are still being assessed.
"His death, if confirmed, would disrupt and degrade coordination among senior AQ leaders and extremists," Cook said.
A Twitter account run by the Fatah al-Sham Front said that Mabrouk, a veteran Egyptian jihadist also known as Abu Farag al-Masri, was killed in the northern Idlib province, which is controlled by an insurgent alliance that includes the Fatah al-Sham Front.
The Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, which relies on a network of activists inside Syria, said Mabrouk was killed when his vehicle was struck near the border with Turkey.
Another senior commander from the group, Abu Omar Saraqib, was killed in an airstrike last month.
Mabrouk was imprisoned in his native Egypt in 1981 in the sweep following the assassination of President Anwar Sadat. He later traveled to Afghanistan, where he became close to al-Zawahri before traveling to Syria earlier this year.
Fatah al-Sham recently announced it was changing its name and severing ties with al-Qaida in a video in which Mabrouk sat next to the group's top leader, Abu Mohammed al-Golani.
But in part because of the presence of al-Qaida veterans like Mabrouk among its ranks, most experts still view the group as an al-Qaida affiliate, and both the United States and Russia have vowed to keep striking it.