The US Central Command (CENTCOM) has announced that a US-led coalition has taken out a senior member of the Hurras al-Din (also known as Horas al-Din) group, an al-Qaeda-linked terrorist group, last June 27. The hit, referred to as a “kinetic strike,” was executed in Idlib, northwestern Syria.

The mission was to take out Hurras al-Din’s leader, Abu Hamzah al Yemeni. According to initial reports, the terrorist leader was riding a motorcycle during the strike. He was successfully eliminated during this motorcycle ride at around midnight. There were also reports that he was hit by two rockets. However, the specific munition used to kill al Yemeni was not specified. CENTCOM also reported that there were no civilian casualties during the operation.

As Syria remains a safe haven and a hotspot for Al-Qaeda and Al-Qaeda-aligned militants, the US forces continue to seek these groups out to keep their effectiveness at bay. By eliminating their line of leadership, the groups will tend to be directionless, limiting their capacity to strike targets with terrorist intent.

“Violent extremist organizations, including Al Qaeda-aligned organizations such as Hurras al-Din, continue to present a threat to America and our allies,” CENTCOM said in a statement. “Al Qaeda-aligned militants use Syria as a safe haven to coordinate with their external affiliates and plan operations outside of Syria. The removal of this senior leader will disrupt Al Qaeda’s ability to carry out attacks against U.S. citizens, our partners, and innocent civilians around the world,” they continued.

Historical Background

This successful kill is a strategic success in the war on terror as the US State Department designated Hurras al-Din as a global terrorist group in 2019. Each of the top three leaders has a $5 million bounty on their heads. Much of the public is unfamiliar with the group as these small groups splintered from a much larger organization. In Hurras al-Din’s case, the group was created sometime in 2018 after multiple factions splintered away from Hayat Tahrir al-Sham.

Hayat Tahrir al-Sham, known as the “Organization for the Liberation of the Levant,” had its roots in the Syrian Civil War. It was a localized Syrian terrorist organization designated as a terrorist group in 2018. It mostly followed a Salafi-jihadist ideology and was once affiliated with terrorist groups Jabhat al-Nusra and al-Qaeda. They would later publicly split with al-Qaeda, with the group’s leader establishing a new organization called the Jabhat Fatah al-Sham.

Returning to Hurras al-Din, the terrorist organization comprises seven Syrian rebel factions, with 10 minor revel factions joining the group months after its inception on February 27, 2018. All these groups have ties and ideological ties to al-Qaeda, with half of its members being foreigners. Despite their ties to al-Qaeda, their leadership is known to be divided into two ideologies. One ideology focuses on the teaching of Abu Muhammad al-Maqdisi, an al-Qaeda scholar. The other ideology focuses on the teachings of Jamal Ibrahim Ashityawee al-Musratti, a Libyan cleric. The two ideologies find common ground in their “defining authority” as they view al-Qaeda leader Ayman al-Zawahiri as the superior leader.

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Despite not having a permanent territory, the group has carried out some 200 known attacks within Syria, specifically within Idlib, Latakia, Aleppo, and Hama. The group is not known to have complex weaponry. However, they do have access to small arms and mortars. Despite splintering from Hayat Tahrir al-Sham, the two groups still work together to attack the current Syrian regime.

Personnel of the al-Tawhid wal-Jihad Brigade, under Hayat Tahrir al-Sham, rural Idlib – April 2019 (enabbaladi.net). Source: https://english.enabbaladi.net/archives/2019/07/hardliner-wing-of-guardians-of-religion-loses-its-most-influential-figures/
Personnel of the al-Tawhid wal-Jihad Brigade, under Hayat Tahrir al-Sham, rural Idlib – April 2019 (enabbaladi.net). Source: https://english.enabbaladi.net/archives/2019/07/hardliner-wing-of-guardians-of-religion-loses-its-most-influential-figures/

Continued Operations Against Terrorism

The report of Abu Hamzah al Yemeni being killed comes just days after US-led coalition forces captured a senior ISIS leader during a ground raid in northwestern Syria. The leader in question, Hani Ahmed al-Kurdi, was a known bomb-maker who was one of ISIS’s top leaders in Syria.

“The mission was meticulously planned to minimize the risk of collateral damage, particularly any potential harm to civilians. There were no civilians harmed during the operation nor any damage to Coalition aircraft or assets,” Operation Inherent Resolve said.

While these terrorist groups have largely been incapacitated throughout the years, these organizations still need to be kept at bay so that they do not build up forces and capacity strong enough to become a serious, legitimate threat like they did years ago. Gen. Erik Kurilla has stated that the US remains dedicated to the war on terror and that they are working so that the security of the Middle East and the enduring defeat of ISIS remain for years to come.