A former lieutenant of Osama Bin Laden, Abul Hassan Al-Tunsi, has reportedly been killed fighting in the Idlib province of Syria. Al-Tunsi had been a trusted deputy of the late Al-Qaeda chief Bin Laden. He then went on to become one of the leaders of Al-Qaeda affiliate Jahbat Al-Nusra, or the Al-Nusra Front, one of the largest and best organized jihadi forces fighting against the regime of Syrian president Bashar al-Assad. The Daily Star quoted the director of the Syrian Observatory of Human Rights announcing the death.
“Abul Hassan al-Tunsi, an important leader of Al-Nusra Front, was killed in clashes Friday between Islamist rebels and pro-government militia around the Shiite villages of Foua and Kafraya in Idlib province.”
According to the Times of Israel, the former Bin Laden lieutenant had been prominent in the fight against the Assad regime. Al-Tunsi, a veteran of Bin Laden’s actions in Afghanistan and Iraq, is said to have arrived in Syria in 2012. He immediately became one of the principal leaders of the Al-Nusra front, a coalition of Sunni Wahhabi jihadist forces known as “The Army of Conquest,” second only in power and influence to ISIS, with whom they appear to be fighting a losing struggle. Despite this, the Al-Nusra Front has managed to capture most of the province of Idlib with the exception of the Shiite holdout villages of Foua and Kafraya. It was in the intensified assault on these villages that Al-Tunsi is said to have died.
Al-Qaeda and its affiliates have been enemies of ISIS since Bin Laden’s time, with the former Al-Qaeda chief formally breaking ties with the group after they refused to see eye to eye on strategy, means, and mission. Bin Laden, whose organization represented a kind of intellectual elite, was horrified at the brutality of the former Al-Qaeda affiliate. De-classified correspondence from the Bin Laden compound in Abbottabad show Bin Laden’s repeated urgings that ISIS, then known as Al-Qaeda in Iraq (AQI), cease attacks on Muslims in the Middle East and re-focus their energies on conducting attacks in the West. AQI’s continued refusal led to Bin Laden formally disavowing the group.
This fraught relationship has led to direct confrontation between Al-Qaeda affiliates and ISIS forces, especially in Syria. In a strange twist of fate, David Petraeus, former head of the CIA, has advocated an alliance with Al-Qaeda in the fight against ISIS, which is ironic in light of the killing of Osama Bin Laden by SEAL Team Six back in 2011.
The death of Al-Tunsi, if true, represents a significant loss to the Al-Nusra front, as battle-hardened and experienced commanders from the days of Bin Laden are become increasingly thin on the ground through a combination of U.S.-led air strikes and attrition caused by clashes with other insurgent groups and regime troops.
[Picture via Getty Images/Staff]