A U.S. airstrike targeted a senior al-Qaeda leader in northwestern Syria over the weekend, the Pentagon announced Monday.
The object of the attack is known as Abu Firas al-Suri, a spokesman for Jabhat al-Nusra, the al-Qaeda affiliate currently fighting in northern Syria. The Pentagon is still assessing whether he was killed.
Initial reports had indicated that the strike was carried out by either Syrian or Russian forces before the Pentagon asserted responsibility.
According to Pentagon spokesman Peter Cook, the strike, which targeted a meeting, resulted in “several enemy killed.”
While the Pentagon refused to specify where exactly the strike took place, or what type of aircraft carried it out, a human rights monitoring group active in Syria reported Monday that it occurred in Kafr Jales, a small village in Idlib province. According to the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, the airstrike targeted Suri, his son and a number of Uzbek fighters who belong to Jund al-Aqsa, an Islamist group that has aligned with Jabhat al-Nusra. The rights group said that more than 20 people were killed and that the death toll was expected to rise, as some of the wounded were in critical condition.
Cook indicated that Suri was a “legacy” al-Qaeda member who worked with Osama bin Laden and fought in Afghanistan in the 1980s and 1990s. The Pentagon has struck al-Qaeda leaders in the past in Syria, but Jabhat al-Nusra, despite being an al-Qaeda affiliate, has remained relatively unmolested by U.S. airstrikes, as the Pentagon has focused the brunt of its air power on attacking the Islamic State.
Idlib province has been the site of heavy fighting in recent months, as Nusra and a slew of opposition groups — some backed by the United States — have struggled to hold ground in the face of an aggressive Russian air campaign and a newly emboldened Syrian army reinforced by Iranian and Hezbollah forces.