Syrian rebel leader Zahran Alloush killed in air strike
Death of head of Jaysh al-Islam comes as blow to rebel control of Damascus suburb
Zahran Abduallah Alloush delivering a speech during a passing out ceremony for graduating recruits of his group on 29th April 2015. Photograph: EPA
A top Syrian rebel leader and head of the most powerful insurgent group in the eastern suburbs of Damascus was killed in an aerial raid that targeted the group’s headquarters and rebel sources, the Syrian army said on Friday.
The death of Zahran Alloush (44) head of Jaysh al-Islam, is a big blow to rebel control of the rural eastern suburban area of Damascus known as al-Ghouta, the rebels said.
Defence experts say the disarray among the rebel forces could also consolidate Syrian president Bashar al-Assad’s control over the rest of the area.
Several rebel leaders have been killed since Russia began an aerial campaign on September 30th in support of Mr Assad, although Moscow has insisted that it is concentrating its attacks on Islamic State.
The rebel sources said that in the raid Russian planes fired at least 10 missiles at a secret headquarters of the group, which is the largest rebel faction in the area and has about 15,000 to 20,000 fighters, according to Western intelligence.
The Syrian army said Alloush was killed as the result of intelligence on the ground. Rebels blamed Russian sophisticated spying planes which they say rarely leave their skies.
A rebel source said the group had chosen one of their top military commanders, Abu Hammam al Buwaidani, as their new head.
“Alloush’s martyrdom should be a turning point in the history of the revolution and rebel groups should realise they are facing an war of extermination and uprooting by (Russian president Vladimir) Putin’s regime,” said Labib al-Nahhas, a senior figure in the main Ahrar al-Sham rebel group.
Jaysh al-Islam has effectively been running the administration of the Eastern Ghouta area since 2013, when the group was formed from an amalgamation of a number of rebel brigades.
The rebels said Alloush was killed while holding a meeting with other rebel leaders in the Marj area of al-Ghouta, which has been the target of a major Syrian assault in the last few weeks.
Jaysh al-Islam was one of the main rebel groups that attended a recent Saudi-backed opposition meeting in Riyadh and will be part of a negotiating team that is expected to hold talks with Mr Assad’s government in Geneva.
Before setting up Jaysh al-Islam, Alloush had founded Liwa al-Islam, or the Brigade of Islam, with his father Abdallah, a Salafist Syrian cleric based in Saudi Arabia. He had a postgraduate degree in religious studies from a Saudi university.
Alloush, who was released by the Syrian authorities at the start of the conflict in 2011 when it let scores of Islamist detainees go free, had been criticised for a crackdown on dissidents in the areas he controlled.
Activists accused him of kidnapping several prominent figures.
Alloush was ideologically at odds with Islamic State and al-Qaeda, espousing a more moderate brand of Islam. He fought against more militant Islamists and drove them out of his territory. He had dozens of jihadists locked up behind bars.