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The remains of motorcycle which was reportedly targeted in a drone attack on the eastern edge of Syria's rebel-held Idlib province, early on June 28, 2022. Image Credit: AFP

BEIRUT: A drone strike by the US-led coalition in northwestern Syria killed a senior member of an Al Qaida-linked group, Syrian opposition activists and the US military said on Tuesday.

The attack on the suspected militant, who was riding a motorcycle at the time, came shortly before midnight on Monday — the latest in a series of strikes over the past years targeting Al Qaida-linked militants in northwestern Syria.

The US Central Command said its forces conducted “a kinetic strike’’ in Syria’s Idlib province, targeting Abu Hamzah Al Yemeni, a senior leader of Horas Al Deen group. Al Yemeni was traveling alone at the time of the strike, it said, adding that initial review indicates no civilian casualties.

The opposition’s Syrian Civil Defence, also known as White Helmets, said the attack occurred just south of the rebel-held city of Idlib. The White Helmets said there were no other fatalities except the man on the motorcycle, adding that they have handed over the man’s body to morgue officials in Idlib.

Syrian opposition activists did not identify the slain man while the US Central Command statement indicated he was a Yemeni citizen.

Hardcore elements

Members of Horas Al Deen, Arabic for “Guardians of Religion,’’ are hardcore Al Qaida elements who broke away from Hayat Tahrir Al Sham, the strongest insurgent group in Idlib, the last major rebel enclave in war-torn Syria.

In June 2020, the US military killed Khaled Aruri, a top Jordanian commander with Horas Al Deen, also in Idlib. A drone strike in December 2019 killed a senior Horas Al Deen commander, the Jordanian citizen Bilal Khuraisat, also known as Abu Khadija Al Urduni.

CENTCOM said in its statement that violent extremist organisations, including Al Qaida-aligned organisations such as Horas Al Deen, “continue to present a threat to America and our allies.’’ It added that al-Qaida-aligned militants use Syria as a safe haven to coordinate with their external affiliates and plan operations outside of Syria.

“The removal of this senior leader will disrupt Al Qaida’s ability to carry out attacks against US citizens, our partners, and innocent civilians around the world,’’ CENTCOM said.

Brett McGurk said at the time when he was the top US envoy for the coalition battling the Daesh (Islamic State) group, that Idlib is the largest Al Qaida haven since bin Laden’s days in Afghanistan.

A US airstrike killed Al Qaida’s second in command, former bin Laden aide Abu Al Kheir Al Masri, in Syria in 2017.

In February, the US military killed the latest Daesh leader, Abu Ebrahim Al Hashimi Al Qurayshi, in Idlib province near the Turkish border. The first leader of the Daesh group, Abu Bakr Al Baghdadi, was also killed in a US strike in Idlib, in 2019.