US launches fresh strikes on Khorasan group in Syria

Next Media - U.S. Airstrikes Target Al Qaeda-Linked Militants in Syria

(Reuters) - The United States said it conducted air strikes on Wednesday night against the so-called Khorasan group, an al Qaeda-linked militant faction based in Syria, and said the group was plotting to attack Europe or the United States.

U.S. officials, speaking on condition of anonymity, said a target of the strike was David Drugeon, a French-born militant and convert to Islam who some U.S. officials say is a bomb maker for the group.

General Lloyd Austin, the head of the U.S. military's Central Command, said Drugeon was one of the group's "leadership elements and one of the most dangerous elements in that organization."

He declined to say whether Drugeon was killed, telling a forum in Washington the military was assessing the results of the strikes. Asked whether Drugeon was a target, he said, "Any time we can take their leadership out is a good thing."

The officials said they believed a leader of the Khorasan group, Muhsin al-Fadhli, who had been targeted in U.S. strikes in Syria in September, was still alive. It was unclear whether al-Fadhli was a target of the latest U.S. raid.

In a statement on Thursday, U.S. Central Command said the latest strikes were carried out by the U.S. military against five Khorasan targets near Sarmada in Idlib province, close to the Turkish border and west of the Syrian city of Aleppo.

"We took decisive action to protect our interests and remove their capability to act," it said, adding that al Qaeda militants "are taking advantage of the Syrian conflict to advance attacks against Western interests."

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US launches fresh strikes on Khorasan group in Syria
A rebel fighter stands on a tank near the frontline in the village of Ratyan in the countryside north of the Syrian city of Aleppo on February 19, 2015. Fierce clashes are raging between rebel forces and government troops in the villages of Ratyan and Hardtaneen as regime forces cut the main rebel supply line into Aleppo. The Syrian regime is ready to suspend aerial bombardment of Aleppo to allow a humanitarian ceasefire, a UN envoy said, even as government troops sought to encircle embattled rebels. AFP PHOTO / ZEIN AL RIFAI (Photo credit should read ZEIN AL-RIFAI/AFP/Getty Images)
The U.S. will provide some moderate Syrian rebels with trucks equipped with machine guns and radios to call in U.S. airstrikes. WSJ's Julian Barnes reports.
Rebel fighters drive tanks near the frontline in the village of Ratyan in the countryside north of the Syrian city of Aleppo on February 19, 2015. Fierce clashes are raging between rebel forces and government troops in the villages of Ratyan and Hardtaneen as regime forces cut the main rebel supply line into Aleppo. The Syrian regime is ready to suspend aerial bombardment of Aleppo to allow a humanitarian ceasefire, a UN envoy said, even as government troops sought to encircle embattled rebels. AFP PHOTO / ZEIN AL RIFAI (Photo credit should read ZEIN AL-RIFAI/AFP/Getty Images)
Rebel fighters drive a tank near the frontline in the village of Ratyan in the countryside north of the Syrian city of Aleppo on February 19, 2015. Fierce clashes are raging between rebel forces and government troops in the villages of Ratyan and Hardtaneen as regime forces cut the main rebel supply line into Aleppo. The Syrian regime is ready to suspend aerial bombardment of Aleppo to allow a humanitarian ceasefire, a UN envoy said, even as government troops sought to encircle embattled rebels. AFP PHOTO / ZEIN AL RIFAI (Photo credit should read ZEIN AL-RIFAI/AFP/Getty Images)
A rebel fighter stands looking at a tank on a truck near the frontline in the village of Ratyan in the countryside north of the Syrian city of Aleppo on February 19, 2015. Fierce clashes are raging between rebel forces and government troops in the villages of Ratyan and Hardtaneen as regime forces cut the main rebel supply line into Aleppo. The Syrian regime is ready to suspend aerial bombardment of Aleppo to allow a humanitarian ceasefire, a UN envoy said, even as government troops sought to encircle embattled rebels. AFP PHOTO / ZEIN AL RIFAI (Photo credit should read ZEIN AL-RIFAI/AFP/Getty Images)
ALEPPO, SYRIA - NOVEMBER 06: Debris are seen following a US-led coalition airstrike hits Headquarters of al Nusra Front in Aleppo, Syria on November 06, 2014. (Photo by Ahmed Hasan Ubeyd/Anadolu Agency/Getty Images)
ALEPPO, SYRIA - NOVEMBER 06: Debris are seen following a US-led coalition airstrike hits Headquarters of al Nusra Front in Aleppo, Syria on November 06, 2014. (Photo by Ahmed Hasan Ubeyd/Anadolu Agency/Getty Images)
ALEPPO, SYRIA - NOVEMBER 06: Debris are seen following a US-led coalition airstrike hits Headquarters of al Nusra Front in Aleppo, Syria on November 06, 2014. (Photo by Ahmed Hasan Ubeyd/Anadolu Agency/Getty Images)
ALEPPO, SYRIA - NOVEMBER 06: Debris are seen following a US-led coalition airstrike hits Headquarters of al Nusra Front in Aleppo, Syria on November 06, 2014. (Photo by Ahmed Hasan Ubeyd/Anadolu Agency/Getty Images)
ALEPPO, SYRIA - NOVEMBER 06: Syrians gathered to search for survivors amidst the debris of destroyed buildings following an airstrike with barrel bomb by Syrian Government's helicopters in the Shaar neighborhood of Aleppo, Syria on November 06, 2014. At least 16 casualties, including women and children, reported. (Photo by Mustafa Hafiz/Anadolu Agency/Getty Images)
A US-led coalition Rockwell B-1 Lancer flies above the city of Kobane, also known as Ain al-Arab, as it seens from the southeastern border village of Mursitpinar, Sanliurfa province, on November 5, 2014. Islamic State jihadists subjected a group of teenagers from the Syrian battleground town of Kobane to a string of abuses, including torture, during six months in captivity, Human Rights Watch said on November4, 2014. AFP PHOTO / ARIS MESSINIS (Photo credit should read ARIS MESSINIS/AFP/Getty Images)
Smoke rises from a burning building in the city of Kobane, also known as Ain al-Arab, as it seen from the southeastern border village of Mursitpinar, Sanliurfa province, on November 5, 2014. Islamic State jihadists subjected a group of teenagers from the Syrian battleground town of Kobane to a string of abuses, including torture, during six months in captivity, Human Rights Watch said on November4, 2014. AFP PHOTO / ARIS MESSINIS (Photo credit should read ARIS MESSINIS/AFP/Getty Images)
ALEPPO, SYRIA - NOVEMBER 06: Debris and wrecked vehicles are seen following a US-led coalition airstrike hits Headquarters of al Nusra Front in Aleppo on November 06, 2014. (Photo by Ahmed Hasan Ubeyd/Anadolu Agency/Getty Images)
Smoke rises after an airstrike in the city of Kobane, also known as Ain al-Arab, as it seens from the southeastern border village of Mursitpinar, Sanliurfa province, on November 5, 2014. Islamic State jihadists subjected a group of teenagers from the Syrian battleground town of Kobane to a string of abuses, including torture, during six months in captivity, Human Rights Watch said on November4, 2014. AFP PHOTO / ARIS MESSINIS (Photo credit should read ARIS MESSINIS/AFP/Getty Images)
ALEPPO, SYRIA - NOVEMBER 06: Debris are seen following a US-led coalition airstrike hits Headquarters of al Nusra Front in Aleppo on November 06, 2014. (Photo by Ahmed Hasan Ubeyd/Anadolu Agency/Getty Images)
Smoke rises after an airstrike in the city of Kobane, also known as Ain al-Arab, as it seens from the southeastern border village of Mursitpinar, Sanliurfa province, on November 5, 2014. Islamic State jihadists subjected a group of teenagers from the Syrian battleground town of Kobane to a string of abuses, including torture, during six months in captivity, Human Rights Watch said on November4, 2014. AFP PHOTO / ARIS MESSINIS (Photo credit should read ARIS MESSINIS/AFP/Getty Images)
Smoke rises after an airstrike in the city of Kobane, also known as Ain al-Arab, as it seens from the southeastern border village of Mursitpinar, Sanliurfa province, on November 5, 2014. Islamic State jihadists subjected a group of teenagers from the Syrian battleground town of Kobane to a string of abuses, including torture, during six months in captivity, Human Rights Watch said on November4, 2014. AFP PHOTO / ARIS MESSINIS (Photo credit should read ARIS MESSINIS/AFP/Getty Images)
SANLIURFA, TURKEY - NOVEMBER 03: A photo taken in Suruc district of Sanliurfa, Turkey shows smoke rises from an explosion in the Syrian border town of Kobani (Ayn al-Arab) following a US-led coalition airstrike hits an Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) targets on November 3, 2014. (Photo by Ali Ihsan Ozturk/Anadolu Agency/Getty Images)
SANLIURFA, TURKEY - OCTOBER 30 : A photograph taken from Suruc district of Sanliurfa, Turkey, near Turkish-Syrian border crossing shows smoke rising from the Syrian border town of Kobani (Ayn al-Arab) following the US-led coalition airstrikes against the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) targets on October 30, 2014. (Photo by Rauf Maltas/Anadolu Agency/Getty Images)
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"SKILLED AL QAEDA VETERANS"

U.S. officials have described Khorasan as a grouping of skilled al Qaeda veterans who moved to Syria from the Afghanistan-Pakistan border and set up operations under the protection of Nusra Front, the main Syrian al Qaeda affiliate.

From strongholds in northwestern Syria, Nusra Front has fought militants in the Islamic State, another spin-off of al Qaeda which holds territory in Syria and Iraq and is considered a major threat in the area by Washington.

The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, a monitoring group, said a series of U.S. air strikes targeted Nusra Front in Idlib province, where last week the group pushed back Western-backed Syrian rebels. The Observatory said at least six Nusra militants had been killed.

There was no independent confirmation that this was an account of the same attack described by CENTCOM.

The U.S. military made clear the attacks were specifically aimed at Khorasan and not more broadly at Nusra Front. "There were no strikes conducted against al Nusra," Austin said.

U.S. officials have described Khorasan as a particularly menacing faction of militants who have been using their sanctuary in Syria to try to organize plots to attack U.S. and other Western targets, possibly including airliners.

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