As part of the larger operation to target the Islamic State, or ISIS, terror group, U.S. aircraft hit an al-Qaeda cell in Syria called Khorasan Group, which was believed to be preparing for terror attacks against the United States or its installations overseas, U.S. Central Command says.
From Wednesday to Friday, the U.S.-led coalition has conducted 35 strikes against ISIS and the Khorasan in Syria and Iraq, Reuters quoted the Central Command as saying in a release.
Of these, 19 airstrikes were conducted against the ISIS and the Khorasan in Syria and 16 strikes against Islamic State in Iraq.
A special cell within al Qaeda's Syrian branch Nusra Front, the Khorasan is led by a former al-Qaeda commander who was involved in the 9/11 attacks and has the ability to make bombs. Like Islamic State, the Khorasan is also known to have foreign fighters, including those with Western passports.
A Syrian activist, Asaad Kanjo, told The Associated Press that the attack targeting the Khorasan occurred near the town of Harem in Syria's northwestern Idlib province near the Turkish border. Witnesses say a drone fired two missiles that struck a Nusra Front base, killing at least two people.
The targets of the U.S. aircraft included at least one top operative of the Khorasan, according to CNN.
"Some [operatives of Khorasan] have been killed. They're being hunted down and they have to think about what they do and that's disruptive," a U.S. official was quoted as saying, of the impact of the strikes.
It was the third round of strikes against the Nusra Front since the airstrikes began in Syria in September against the ISIS.
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Fighters from the Nusra Front are fighting, alongside other rebels, against Syria's embattled President Bashar Assad in that country's ongoing civil war. While the United States distinguishes between the Khorasan and the Nusra Front, saying it is restricting its strikes to the former, some say the two are one entity.
Strikes against the Khorasan are being seen as an advantage for President Assad, who would face a weakened rebel force if the Nusra Front is destroyed.
The leader of the Khorasan is Muhsin al-Fadhli, who worked closely with Osama bin Laden and had a prior knowledge about the 9/11 terror strikes. He is a native of Kuwait and just 33 years old.
The members of the Khorasan include al-Qaeda operatives from across the Middle East, South Asia and North Africa. The group was formed just last year out of a cell in Syria that was likely preparing for terror attacks against the United States or its installations overseas.
Two years ago, the U.S. State Department said in a release that Fadhli was at the time the leader of al-Qaeda in Iran, responsible for "the movement of funds and operatives" through the country to fund al-Qaeda rebels in Syria.
ISIS, also known as ISIL, which has gained control over large swaths of territories in Iraq and Syria, is also an al-Qaeda offshoot and has been working to form an Islamic emirate in the Levant region through "jihad."
While the Khorasan and the ISIS are rivals, some reports suggest the two have joined hands to fight the U.S.-led coalition.
ISIS men have killed hundreds of civilians in Iraq and Syria. Numerous members of the Christian and Yazidi minorities have also been killed in Iraq, and tens of thousands of them have fled their homes.