Drone Strike Kills Senior Al Qaeda Leader in Syria, Pentagon Says

A U.S. drone strike has killed an al Qaeda leader in Syria, the Pentagon said.

The September 20 strike hit a vehicle on a rural road outside the city of Idlib in rebel-controlled northwestern Syria, killing at least one person, the Associated Press reported. That person has been identified as Salim Abu-Ahmad, a senior leader of al Qaeda, a militant multi-national terrorist organization.

"Salim Abu-Ahmad was responsible for planning, funding, and approving trans-regional al-Qaeda attacks," Army Major John Rigsbee, a CENTCOM spokesman told Military Times.

U.S. Central Command (CENTCOM) later said the strike was a "kinetic counterterrorism strike" carried out by U.S. forces. The U.S. has targeted terrorist networks and leaders internationally to reduce threats to the U.S. and its allies, domestically and abroad.

Rigsbee said there have been no indications of civilian casualties from the strike.

drone strike al Qaeda leader syria pentagon
A U.S. drone strike has killed an al Qaeda leader in Syria, the Pentagon said. In this photo, a U.S. Air Force MQ-1B Predator unmanned aerial vehicle (aka. a drone) carries a Hellfire missile lands at a secret air base after flying a mission in the Persian Gulf region on January 7, 2016. John Moore/Getty

The presence of al Qaeda and the Islamic State (ISIS) in Syria can seem confusing, especially since both groups are militant Islamic terrorist organizations, but their presence in the region differs in worldview and tactics.

Al Qaeda arose in Syria as a faction named Jabhat al-Nusra near the start of the country's ongoing civil war. The war has lasted 10 years so far. The group arose from an al Qaeda faction that originated in Iraq.

In February 2012, al Qaeda chief Ayman al-Zawahiri called for Sunnis Muslims from around Syria to join forces in a jihad against the regime of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, according to the Council of Foreign Relations (CFR). al-Zawahiri pointed to the Assad regime's extrajudicial killings and torture of public demonstrators as reasons for people to join forces with al Qaeda, the CFR reported.

Outside of Syria, al Qaeda sees the U.S. as its primary enemy and the cause of the Middle East's problems, according to Daniel L. Byman, senior fellow of foreign policy at the Brookings Insitute's Center for Middle East Policy.

Al Qaeda uses terrorist attacks in the U.S. and other Western countries to force the U.S. and its allies to withdraw its support for Muslim state regimes. Al Qaeda views as corrupt and "apostate." Without U.S. support in the region, al Qaeda thinks these corrupt Middle Eastern regimes will be easier to overthrow, Byman said in a 2015 report.

However, al Qaeda's worldview differs from that of the Islamic State (ISIS). ISIS predominantly attacks other religious minorities as well as rival jihadist groups already living inside the Middle East. As such, ISIS also sees al Qaeda as an enemy, and the two groups have warred within Syria throughout the ongoing civil war.

While "lone wolf" gunmen and terrorists in the U.S. and other Western countries sometimes declare loyalty to ISIS after committing violent acts, ISIS most often targets other Muslim civilians in the Middle East.