US Kills Top Bin-Laden Protege Planning to Hit US From Syria

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Saagar Enjeti White House Correspondent
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The U.S. killed al-Qaida terrorist Haydar Kirkan in Syria with a drone strike Oct. 17, the Pentagon told reporters Wednesday.

Kirkan was “actively engaged in planning external operations,” Pentagon Spokesman Captain Jeff Davis elaborated. A 2007 State Department cable released by Wikileaks indicates Kirkan operated a cell in Turkey, and obtained training at an Afghanistan al-Qaida training camp in 1999. Davis further characterized Kirkan as a “long time facilitator and courier” for al-Qaida, with historic ties to Osama Bin-Laden and other senior al-Qaida leaders.

Kirkan’s presence indicates the enduring threat to the U.S. from al-Qaida’s core organization, and the ongoing Syrian conflict. U.S. strategy and rhetoric on Syria is predominantly focused on containing and destroying the Islamic State. al-Qaida maintains an active battlefield presence in Syria, elements of which are behind a major military offensive against the Assad regime in the city of Aleppo.

Kirkan’s death comes just two weeks after a U.S. airstrike reportedly killed Abu al Faraj al Masri, a senior Egyptian al-Qaida leaders with deep ties to the core al-Qaida organization. Davis told reporters at the time the U.S. intelligence community has had “a bit of a growth of core al-Qaida in Syria,” in recent years. Masri reportedly came to Syria after being released from Egyptian prison by then President Mohammed Morsi, a member of the Muslim Brotherhood.

“Al-Qaeda is putting all its chips in Syria,” director of the International Security and Defense Policy Center at the Rand Corporation Seth Jones told The Washington Poset in July. An anonymous U.S. intelligence official lamented to the Post “it’s only a matter of time before we get hit by core al-Qaeda. It’s a reality.”

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