The Syrian commander and leader of the most powerful insurgent rebel forces was killed in an aerial raid targeted at the group’s headquarters, according to reports by a monitoring group and Syrian state media Friday.
Zahran Alloush, head of Jaysh al Islam, was 44. The leader’s death is huge loss for the rebels in control of the rural eastern suburban area of Damascus called al Ghouta, the rebels explained. Jaysh al Islam announced in a video message that Abu Homam Essam al-Boudani was named the new commander, according to CNN.
Defense experts explained that the new situation among the rebel forces could fortify Syrian President Bashar al-Assad’s control over the remaining area, Reuters reports.
The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said that Alloush and four senior-level officers were killed Thursday after their meeting was bombed by warplanes.
Rebel sources said that Russian planes sent at least 10 missiles shooting toward the group’s secret headquarters, which is the largest rebel faction in the area and holds more than 15,000 fighters, according to Reuters. However, CNN reports that it is unclear whether Russian planes actually carried out the strike. And SANA, Syria’s state-run news agency, reported that the attack was a Syrian special operation.
According to Reuters, the Syrian army said Alloush died as a result of ground intelligence. Rebels said Russian spying planes were responsible.
“Alloush’s martyrdom should be a turning point in the history of the revolution and rebel groups should realize they are facing a war of extermination and uprooting by (Russian President Vladimir) Putin’s regime,” a senior figure in the main Ahrar al-Sham rebel group, Labib al Nahhas, said.
Meanwhile, SANA praised the death of the leader and stated that “the terrorist Alloush was killed during air raids on terror dens.”
Before Jaysh al Islam, one of the main rebel groups that attended a recent Saudi-backed meeting in Riyadh and part of a negotiating team expected to talk with Asaad’s government, Alloush started Liwa al-Islam, or the Brigade of Islam.
Alloush was reportedly at odds with the Islamic State and al Qaeda ideologically, embracing a moderate kind of Islam. Syria had accused Saudi Arabia of financing arms and supplies to Alloush for a long time, but others have said that he did not win the support he would have liked from Saudi Arabia or Turkey.
Several other rebel leaders have been killed since Russia started its aerial campaign in September in support of Assad. However, Moscow has claimed it is focusing on Islamic State attacks.