Top Syrian Militant Killed Near Damascus

Top Syrian Militant Killed Near DamascusTop Syrian Militant Killed Near Damascus

One month before peace talks are scheduled to begin between the Syrian government and opposition rebel groups, a Syrian airstrike killed a top extremist commander in the outskirts of Damascus, according to activist groups and the Syrian government.

Zahran Allouch, the founder of the Saudi-backed Army of Jaysh al-Islam, was killed on Friday by an airstrike on a meeting of extremist commanders near the Damascus suburb of Otaya, according to the Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, AP reported.

The Syrian military later claimed responsibility in a statement published by the state-run SANA news agency.

The report said the strike was carried out after a series of aerial reconnaissance operations against groupings of terrorist organizations and their headquarters in the militant-held Damascus suburb of Eastern Ghouta.

In addition to Allouch, it said the airstrike killed “a large number of commanders of Ahrar al-Sham and Faylaq al-Rahman,” other militant factions who are often allied with Alloush’s Army of Islam.

Alloush’s death is a blow to terrorists fighting to topple President Bashar al-Assad and a boost to government forces who have been bolstered by the Russian military intervention in Syria in the past few months.

It was not immediately clear how Allouch’s killing would affect his group, which is entrenched in the eastern suburbs of Damascus. Several extremist group commanders have been killed in the past, including most of the command of the ultraconservative Ahrar al-Sham group in a bombing in northern Syria last year.

Allouch, who was in his mid-40s, was widely known to be supported by Saudi Arabia and Turkey. Critics accused him of sectarian politics and brutal tactics similar to that of the self-styled Islamic State terrorist group.

He is blamed for the December 2013 kidnapping of four prominent activists, including human rights activist and lawyer Razan Zaytouni. He denied holding them although they were kidnapped from an area under Army of Islam control.