Al-Qa’ida Deputy’s Death Weakens Group in Syria

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.

For more information, please contact NJOHSP's Analysis Bureau at analysis@njohsp.gov or 609-584-4000.