CATF Reports Oct. 6, 2016, 9:39am

On Monday, the Nusra Front announced that senior member and longtime terrorist leader Abu Faraj al-Masri had been killed in a drone attack near rebel-held Idlib. While the U.S. Department of Defense (DOD) claimed that an airstrike targeting al-Masri (aka Ahmad Salamah Mabruk) had been conducted, the DOD statement called for further assessment of the results of the strike. The drone attack, which took place near Jisr al-Shughour in Syria’s northwestern Idlib province, is said to have killed al-Masri and the driver of the car.  

Al-Masri was an early leader of the Egyptian Islamic Jihad group known for organizing the assassination of Anwar Sadat. After spending seven years in Egyptian prison, al-Masri travelled to Afghanistan, became a senior leader of al-Qaeda and eventually joined the top ranks of the terrorist group’s affiliate in Syria. As a member of the radical Nusra Front organization, since rebranded as Jabhat Fateh al-Sham, al-Masri would have made for a legitimate and mutually-beneficial target of the now defunct U.S.-Russia arranged ceasefire in Syria. While the successful targeting of al-Masri is a strategic triumph for both U.S. and Russia and a demonstration of U.S. willingness to target the al-Qaeda affiliate, serious coordination in intelligence sharing and military attacks, both of which have been abandoned since the collapse of the ceasefire, would pave the way for a more substantial crackdown on the Nusra Front.

However, shared U.S. and Russian interests have been pushed aside by rising tensions between John Kerry and Sergey Lavrov. Since the collapse of the latest ceasefire weeks ago, Kerry claimed he was in a “parallel universe” to Lavrov over Syria and that the Russians “don’t care about international law” and have turned a “blind eye” to Assad’s use of chlorine and barrel bombs. For his part, Lavrov has tactfully accused the U.S. of facilitating ISIS and Nusra attacks in Deirezzor and Aleppo while Russian officials claimed the U.S. confessed to controlling an international terrorist alliance. Unsurprisingly, efforts for a new U.S.-Russia imposed ceasefire were abandoned this week. While the Nusra Front’s announcement of the death of al-Masri will be greeted with joy in Washington and Moscow, the firmly opposing views of U.S. and Russian leaders have rendered a future ceasefire, despite its reciprocal benefits, increasingly difficult to coordinate and less likely to have long-term success.

From The New York Times:

“A leading figure in Al Qaeda who became a prominent member of its Syrian offshoot, the Nusra Front, was killed in a drone attack on Monday, according to the group.

Abu Faraj al-Masri, who spent years in prison in his native Egypt on charges of plotting with fundamentalist Islamist groups and later left for Afghanistan, reportedly died when the vehicle in which he was traveling was hit in rebel-held Idlib in Syria’s northwest.

The United States Defense Department said in a statement that Mr. Masri had been the target of an American airstrike near Idlib on Monday. “We are still assessing the results of the strike,” the statement said.”

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