On February 26, US military forces killed al-Qa’ida deputy leader Abu Khayr al-Masri in northwestern Syria, further undermining the organization’s command structure in Syria. Masri, the global deputy to al-Qa’ida leader Ayman al-Zawahiri, was a member of the Khorasan Group—a network of senior al-Qa’ida extremists in Syria dedicated to planning operations against the United States and Europe and advising the Nusrah Front, al-Qa’ida’s affiliate in the country.
- Masri was considered a trusted advisor of Zawahiri, having fought alongside him as a member of the Egyptian Islamic Jihad, according to Western reporting. He was one of al-Qa’ida’s expert bomb-makers and was involved in the US Embassy bombings in Kenya and Tanzania in 1998, which killed 224 and injured over 4,000.
- Masri was imprisoned in Iran from 2003-15 and later went to Syria with several other senior al-Qa’ida figures to advise and support the Nusrah Front in its fight against Syrian President Bashar al-Assad. In July 2016, Masri released an audio message claiming the Nusrah Front had severed ties with affiliated groups outside Syria—including al-Qa’ida—but he did not revoke allegiance to Zawahiri, suggesting communication between the groups continued.
- Since 2014, US and Coalition forces have conducted numerous airstrikes against al-Qa’ida in Syria, contributing to the loss of at least eight senior members. These losses, coupled with campaigns targeting al-Qa’ida affiliates in Yemen, Mali, and Somalia, have left the group on the defensive and reduced its ability to conduct attacks outside local areas of operation, including in the West.