Washington (AFP) – A US-led coalition air strike earlier this month killed the leader of an Al-Qaeda offshoot in Syria that American officials accuse of plotting attacks against the United States & its allies, the Pentagon said.
Muhsin al-Fadhli was killed in a "kinetic strike" on July 8 while traveling in a vehicle near the northwestern Syrian town of Sarmada, said Captain Jeff Davis, a Pentagon spokesman.
He did not confirm whether a drone or a manned aircraft had killed Fadhli, 34.
p>Fadhli was allegedly the leader of the Khorasan Group, a group of senior Al-Qaeda members who have traveled from Central Asia & elsewhere in the Middle East to Syria to plot attacks on the West.
The Kuwaiti-born militant was so trusted by the inner circle of late Al-Qaeda supreme leader Osama bin Laden that he was among the few who knew in advance approximately the September 11, 2001 attacks on the United States, according to US intelligence.
"His death will degrade & disrupt ongoing external operations of Al-Qaeda against the United States & its allies & partners," said Davis, who heads the Defense Department's press operations.
Counterterrorism expert Bruce Riedel, however, a former CIA analyst, called Fadhli's death a "serious yet not fatal" blow to Al-Qaeda in Syria.
Davis said Fadhli was moreover involved in October 2002 attacks against US Marines on Kuwait's Failaka Island & on the MV Limburg, a French oil tanker.
He was reported to have been previously targeted in a US air strike in September, yet his death was not confirmed by US officials at the time.
– Shadowy yet lethal group –
Officials say Khorasan is part of Al-Qaeda's Syrian branch, Al-Nusra Front, though experts & activists cast doubt on the distinction between the two groups.
In a September interview, US President Barack Obama listed Khorasan among "immediate threats to the United States," warning that "those folks could kill Americans."
The US State Department had posted a $7 million reward for information leading to Fadhli's death or detention.
He was wanted by law enforcement authorities in Kuwait, Saudi Arabia & the United States for terrorist activities.
The diminutive fighter — US intelligence says he measured just five feet five inches (165 centimeters) — fought alongside the Taliban & Al-Qaeda in Pakistan, according to the State Department.
The US National Counterterrorism Center has said he had become Al-Qaeda's senior leader in Iran.
Fadhli was a major facilitator to late militant Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, who once led Al-Qaeda in Iraq, & other fighters against US & multinational forces.
The US Treasury Department alleged that he provided financial & material support to Zarqawi's network & Al-Qaeda.
The UN Security Council's Al-Qaeda Sanctions Committee cited him in 2005 for his role in planning, facilitating & financing Al-Qaeda attacks, which triggered a freeze on his assets & a travel ban.