The Pentagon has reportedly assassinated high-profile al-Qaeda-linked cleric Sheikh Abu al-Farraj al-Masri, a member of the Nusra Front in Syria, carrying out a drone strike against him in the Nusra-held Idlib Province in the northwest of the country.
The Nusra Front confirmed the death of Masri “in a Crusader raid,” and the Pentagon confirmed he was the target of a strike against a vehicle. Masri had been in jail for years on charges of “plotting” in Egypt, before leaving to join al-Qaeda in Afghanistan and later joining the Syrian affiliate.
It’s unclear what position, if any, Masri actually had in Nusra’s day-to-day operations, but he was a high-profile religious leader for the group, and the attack is doubtless to fuel resentment toward the US in a group which the US has recently been going out of its way not to antagonize.
That the Pentagon deliberately targeted a Nusra cleric with an airstrike against Nusra territory now is quite surprising, considering how loudly US officials are condemning Russia for its own airstrikes against Nusra, claiming the Russian attacks are threatening any efforts for peace in Syria.
The US has had a bizarre stance toward Nusra in recent months, as they were publicly courting Russia for joint attacks for months, made a deal that a seven day ceasefire would lead to those joint strikes, reneged after the seventh day of the ceasefire, and then railed against Russia for unilateral attacks. That the Pentagon is launching their own strikes only adds more questions about where the US stands.