Al-Qaida has confirmed that top leader Abu Khayr al-Masri, believed to be the organization’s number two, was killed in a drone strike by the U.S.-led coalition in Syria.
The killing of Masri, described by analysts as “jihadi royalty,” could serve as a major security coup for U.S. President Donald Trump early in his presidency.
Two branches of the global jihadist group, including the powerful Al-Qaida in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP), announced Masri’s death in a statement dated Wednesday.
Calling him a “hero,” the statement said Masri “was killed during a Crusader drone strike” in Syria.
“All of al-Sham (Syria) will bear witness to the latest crime of America and the Crusader alliance,” the statement said, in reference to the U.S.-led coalition bombing jihadists in Syria and Iraq.
It also expressed its condolences to al-Qaida chief Ayman al-Zawahiri.
A U.S. official said this week that Washington was investigating reports that Egyptian-born Masri had been killed in a U.S. strike in or around the city of Idlib in northwest Syria.
The U.S. has escalated its bombing campaign in the province, mostly ruled by al-Qaida’s former Syrian branch, now known as Fateh al-Sham Front.
In early February, the Pentagon said it killed 11 al-Qaida operatives there.
Masri was a son-in-law of Qaida founder Osama bin Laden and believed to be Zawahiri’s deputy.
Also known as Abdullah Muhammad Rajab Abdulrahman, Masri joined Zawahiri in the Egyptian Islamic Jihad group in the 1980s before they enlisted with Bin Laden in the 1990s.