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US strike targeted al Qaeda in northwest Syria

screengrab @France24 | FRANCE 24's expert on jihadism Wassim Nasr

The United States said Monday it carried out a strike in northwestern Syria a day earlier that a monitor reported had killed eight jihadists, including commanders, from an al Qaeda-linked group.

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"US forces conducted a strike against al Qaeda in Syria (AQ-S) leadership at a training facility near Aleppo Province, Syria, June 30, 2019," US Central Command said in a statement.

"This operation targeted AQ-S operatives responsible for plotting external attacks threatening US citizens, our partners, and innocent civilians," it said, 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 jihadists 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 group.

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

FRANCE 24’s expert on jihadism Wassim Nasr said the US has always tried to strike “high value targets”.

“What’s important here is we have to remember that it’s not the first time that the US has hit al Qaeda targets in this area, but it’s the first time since March 2017,” Nasr said.

In March 2017, the Observatory said a US 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 targeted the religious building, acknowledging only one possible civilian death.

The greater Idlib area was supposed to be protected by a buffer zone under an September agreement between Russia and Turkey.

But backed by its ally Moscow, Damascus has since late April ramped up its bombardment of the region, home to some three million people -- nearly half of whom have been displaced from other parts of Syria.

That came after HTS took over administrative control of the Idlib region at the start of the year.

Hurras al-Deen was established in February 2018 and has some 1,800 fighters, including non-Syrians, according to the Observatory.

(FRANCE 24 with AFP)

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