World News

Russia says critically injures ex-Qaeda leader in Syria; group denies

MOSCOW (Reuters) - Russia said on Wednesday it had critically injured a leader of the Tahrir al-Sham militant group in Syria with an air strike on his position that also killed 12 of his field commanders.

Russia had targeted Abu Mohamad al-Golani in an intelligence-led special operation while he was meeting his field commanders, the Defence Ministry said in a statement.

A statement by the militant group on its telegram channel denied the claim and said Golani was in “good health and exercising the duties assigned to him completely.”

“May God help him succeed in his task,” the short statement said.

Golani and his men were bombed by two Russian planes on Oct. 3, according to a statement by Defence Ministry spokesman Igor Konashenkov. The militant leader, who was the head of the Nusra Front before it merged with other groups to form Tahrir al-Sham, was badly hurt, the statement said.

“As a result of the strike, the Nusra Front leader, Abu Mohamad al-Golani, sustained numerous shrapnel wounds and, having lost an arm, is in a critical condition, according to information from several independent sources,” Konashenkov said.

Nusra Front severed ties with al Qaeda last year and rebranded to head the Hayat Tahrir al-Sham alliance. Other militants, along with Golani, occupy roles in its high command.

Around 50 of Golani’s bodyguards and 12 Nusra Front field commanders were killed in the same air strike, Konashenkov said. They included a close aide to Golani and the head of the militant group’s security service.

The ministry said the air strike was part of an ongoing operation to destroy militants who had launched an offensive on Sept. 18. They surrounded 29 Russian military policemen who then had to be broken out in an operation backed by air power.

Reporting by Dmitry Solovyov/Gabrielle Tetrault-Farber and additional reporting by Ali Abdelaty in Cairo and Suleiman al Khalidi in Amman.; Editing by Andrew Osborn, Larry King