AN AIR strike in Syria has killed Muhsin al-Fadhli, a key figure in a dangerous al-Qaeda offshoot called the Khorasan Group, US sources have said.
He was killed in an 8 July air attack while travelling in a vehicle near Sarmada, Pentagon spokesman Captain Jeff Davis claimed.
Capt Davis did not elaborate on the nature of the air strike, such as whether Fadhli was killed by a drone or piloted aircraft.
Fadhli was a leader of the Khorasan group, a cadre of al-Qaeda operatives said to have been sent from Pakistan to Syria to plot attacks on the West. US officials say the Khorasan group is embedded in the al-Nusra front, Syria’s al-Qaeda affiliate.
Previously based in Iran, Fadhli was the subject of a $7 million (£4.5m) reward by the US State Department for information leading to his capture or death.
He had been falsely reported as having been killed last autumn.
Capt Davis said he was “among the few trusted al-Qaeda leaders that received advanced notification of the 11 September, 2001, attacks”.
Fadhli was also involved in October 2002 attacks against US marines on Faylaka Island in Kuwait and on the French ship MV Limburg, Capt Davis said.
“His death will degrade and disrupt ongoing external operations of al-Qaeda against the United States and our allies and partners,” he added.
Officials have said the Khorasan militants were sent to Syria by al-Qaeda leader Ayman al-Zawahiri to recruit Europeans and Americans whose passports allow them to board a US-bound airliner with less scrutiny from security officials. According to classified US intelligence assessments, the Khorasan militants have been working with bomb-makers from al-Qaeda’s Yemen affiliate to test new ways to slip explosives past airport security.
Officials feared the Khorasan militants would provide these sophisticated explosives to their western recruits who could sneak them on to US-bound flights.
Because of intelligence about the collaboration among the Khorasan group, al-Qaeda’s Yemeni bomb-makers and western extremists, the US transportation security administration decided last July to ban uncharged mobile phones and laptops from flights to the US from Europe and the Middle East.
The Khorasan group remains a threat, US officials said. Its existence demonstrates that core al-Qaeda in Pakistan can still threaten the West, despite the damage done by years of drone missile strikes.
The US military has periodically targeted the group as part of its air campaign in Syria, beginning with eight strikes against Khorasan targets last September.
Among those who have so far survived the bombs is a French-born jihadist who fought in Afghanistan with a military prowess that is of great concern to US intelligence officials.
David Drugeon, who was born in the Brittany region and converted to Islam as a youth, spent time with al-Qaeda in the tribal areas of Pakistan before travelling to Syria, French officials say.