Al Masri has also been touted as a longtime veteran of al Qaeda. It appears Al Masri was, at one point, a military commander for al Qaeda in Afghanistan. Several tweets indicate that he was a trainer for al Qaeda's forces in the country, while another suggests he has also fought for al Qaeda in Somalia. Neither can be independently verified at this point, but the claim that he was a military trainer in Afghanistan is very likely.
This is not the first al Qaeda veteran killed while fighting for Ahrar al Sham in Syria. The most famous example is that of Abu Khalid al Suri. Al Suri, whose real name was Mohamed Bahaiah, was killed last year in Aleppo likely by the Islamic State. According to The Long War Journal, al Suri was Zawahiri's key representative in Syria and acted as a mediator between al Qaeda's Al Nusrah Front and the Islamic State. Citing intelligence officials, my colleague Thomas Joscelyn continues by saying that there are other al Qaeda figures within Ahrar, as well as "al Qaeda has influence in organizations that are not officially recognized as affiliates or branches of the group."
Al Qaeda veterans fighting for Ahrar is not surprising as al Qaeda was very instrumental in its founding and has been able to have members in leadership positions within the group. Not only that, but Ahrar fights very closely alongside al Qaeda in Syria. In almost every major offensive Al Nusrah is involved in, Ahrar is also there alongside the al Qaeda branch.
Rebel offensive in Idlib
The current rebel offensive in Idlib consists of several allied rebel groups advancing on the regime-held city of Idlib. The rebel groups are fighting under a coalition named Jaysh al Fateh; however, Al Nusrah Front appears to be leading the offensive. Ahrar al Sham, Jund al Aqsa (a group largely composed of foreigners), Ajnad al Sham, Jaysh al Sunna, Liwa al Haqq, and Faylaq al Sham (Sham Legions), and several other Free Syrian Army groups are also in the coalition.
The past few days, the coalition has been able to capture more than a dozen checkpoints and make headway into the city. Additionally, Al Nusrah has publicized the use of US-made TOW anti-tank missiles in the offensive on its Twitter and YouTube pages. Ahrar al Sham and Jund al Aqsa are also playing a major role in the offensive. Jund al Aqsa participated in the opening stages by launching two suicide bombers, one Saudi and another Kuwaiti, on regime checkpoints.
Ahrar al Sham has released several videos on its YouTube account, including one showing its fighters advancing in the city. Others show its fighters targeting regime positions in the city. The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights (SOHR) is reporting that around 17 "Islamic fighters" were killed in the clashes yesterday, while 11 regime soldiers were also killed. SOHR did not say which group(s) these fighters came from, but almost certainly Ahrar has lost several soldiers. It is also almost certain that al Masri is not the last al Qaeda veteran within Ahrar's ranks.
This post will be updated when a martyrdom statement for al Masri is released or more information is available.
Photo of al Masri before his burial:
The rebel coalition, Jaish al Fateh, has claimed victory in Idlib. Al Nusrah, Jund al Aqsa, Sham Legion, and Ahrar al Sham have all released photos and videos from inside the center of Idlib today. These photos and videos show celebrating fighters and civilians, fighters tearing down pictures of Bashar al Assad, fighters destroying a statue of Hafez al Assad, and fighters occupying government buildings.
For photos from these videos, please read Thomas Joscelyn's post by clicking here.