Defense

US Air Strike Reunites Bin Laden With His Old Frenemy

REUTERS/Pentagon/Handout/Files

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Russ Read Pentagon/Foreign Policy Reporter
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A U.S. air strike just took out Sheikh Abu al-Faraj al-Masri, one of Syria’s most dangerous terrorists and an old friend of former al-Qaida leader Osama bin Laden.

Masri, who was also known as Ahmad Salamah Mabruk, was targeted by U.S. forces Monday while driving near the Syrian city of Idlib. He was a senior leader in the Jabhat Fateh al-Sham (JFS) terrorist group, formerly known as the Nusra Front, which has ties to al-Qaida. The Pentagon confirmed the air strike Monday, but has yet to officially declare Masri dead, although JFS members confirmed the Masri’s death shortly after the strike.

“His death, if confirmed, would disrupt and degrade coordination among senior AQ leaders and extremists,” said Pentagon Press Secretary Peter Cook in a statement. “The United States military will continue to target al-Qaeda leaders to disrupt their operations and counter the threat posed by this terrorist group.”

WARNING: Graphic Images

Masri had a long career in terrorism dating back to the earliest days of al-Qaida. Like many future Egyptian terror leaders, he was arrested after the assassination of Egyptian president Anwar Sadat in 1981 and served seven years in prison. He would later travel to Afghanistan where he met current al-Qaida leader Ayman al-Zawahiri. Masri would then globe-trot around the Middle East and Russia, spreading his extremism and facing arrest multiple times.

Masri is known to have had a tenuous relationship with bin Laden, despite their shared connections in the jihadi world. Regardless of their differences, he continued to work for Zawahiri, who was bin Laden’s right hand man throughout the 1990’s. Masri’s high-profile connections in the terrorist world earned him the attention of U.S. intelligence. He was kidnapped by CIA operatives in 1998, which allowed the intelligence agency to clone his laptop computer, which contained al-Qaida organizational charts and a dossier of terrorist leaders. An FBI agent who worked on the CIA’s bin Laden unit referred to the computer as the “Rosetta Stone of al-Qaida.”

After spending several years in an Egyptian prison, Masri was released after the 2011 Egyptian revolution, after which he traveled to Syria and became involved with the former Nusra Front. He was part of the group’s Shura council, a body of top leaders who are responsible for offering counsel to the terror organization.

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