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Top Qaeda leader killed in Syria

Abu Sayyaf was founded in 1991 with suspected funds and training from Asian and Middle Eastern groups/AFP

Abu Sayyaf was founded in 1991 with suspected funds and training from Asian and Middle Eastern groups/AFP

Lebanon, Mar 6 – The military chief and several top commanders of the Al-Qaeda-affiliated Al-Nusra Front have been reported killed in northwestern Syria, but the jihadist group has not confirmed his death.

Syrian state media, a monitoring group and a local activist said Abu Hammam al-Shami had been killed, but information on the circumstances of his death was contradictory.

“Shami… was killed with a number of other leaders during a special operation by the army” in Idlib province, Syrian state news agency SANA reported, without specifying a date.

Rami Abdel Rahman, the head of the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights monitoring group, confirmed the commander had been killed but said the circumstances of his death were unclear.

“Shami died of injuries on Thursday, but it is not clear when he sustained them,” Abdel Rahman told AFP.

He said Shami may have been one of five Nusra leaders wounded in an air strike on Idlib province on February 27 by the US-led coalition attacking jihadists in Syria.

An official Nusra statement that day named two commanders killed in that strike but did not mention Shami.

Local Syrian activist Ibrahim al-Idlibi told AFP Shami had been killed in that raid but that Nusra had not published his name due to the “sensitivity” of the information.

Nusra has emerged as the most powerful jihadist group in northwestern Syria and, as well as fighting President Bashar al-Assad’s regime, has clashed with moderate rebels and its jihadist rival the Islamic State group.

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Shami is reported to have travelled to Afghanistan in the late 1990s to fight with Al-Qaeda and was eventually put in charge of Syrian jihadists there. He later spent five years in prison in Lebanon, before travelling to Syria and joining Nusra.

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