ISIL commander killed in strike near Syria's Raqqa: monitor
BEIRUT - Agence France-Presse
Militant Islamist fighters take part in a military parade along the streets of northern Raqqa province, Syria June 30, 2014 - Reuters photoA drone strike near Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant's (ISIL) de facto Syrian capital Raqqa killed a jihadist commander heading to Aleppo province on orders from the organisation's chief, a monitoring group said on March 31.
His death is the latest in a series of blows to the jihadist group in recent weeks, and comes days after Russian-backed Syrian government forces recaptured the ancient city of Palmyra from its grip.
Abu al-Hija, a high-ranking Tunisian ISIL commander, was killed late on Wednesday in a strike by a drone that was "most likely operated by the US-led coalition", the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said.
He had travelled to Syria from Iraq just 24 hours earlier at the behest of ISIL chief Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, the Britain-based monitoring group said.
Abu al-Hija is the latest senior ISIL member to be killed in recent weeks.
Last week, US forces killed ISIL deputy leader Abd ar-Rahman Mustafa al-Qaduli. Earlier this month one of the group's most notorious commanders, Omar al-Shishani, also died.
"ISIL's leadership is being debilitated," Observatory director Rami Abdel Rahman told AFP.
"Without infiltration of ISIL, these killings would not have been possible."
The latest killing came after Syrian government troops backed by Russian forces seized Palmyra on Sunday.
The recapture of Palmyra, known as the "Pearl of the Desert" for its colonnaded alleyways and stunning temples, was seen as the biggest blow so far in the war against ISIL in Syria.
While Russia and the United States back opposing sides in the conflict between the Syrian government and rebels, both are intent on crushing the jihadists.
"It is clear that Russia and the United States are coordinating in the fight against ISIL," Abdel Rahman said.
Abu al-Hija had been ordered by Baghdadi to travel from Iraq to Aleppo province near Turkey's border, to oversee ISIL resistance to an offensive by US-backed fighters of the Kurdish-led Syrian Democratic Forces.
"The fighting, which has been especially fierce in the past four or five days, could lead to ISIL being expelled from the area and pushed eastwards into Raqqa province," Abdel Rahman said.
A top Pentagon official said earlier this week that ISIL was losing the fight against the US-led coalition in both Syria and Iraq, even as it continues to mount attacks overseas, like the suicide bombings that killed 35 people in Brussels on March 22.