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Leader Of Prominent Syrian Rebel Group Believed Killed By Airstrike

Zahran Alloush, head of the Army of Islam Syrian rebel group, speaks during the wedding of a fighter in the group on July 21, 2015, in the rebel-held town of Douma, Syria.
Amer AlMohibany
AFP/Getty Images
Zahran Alloush, head of the Army of Islam Syrian rebel group, speaks during the wedding of a fighter in the group on July 21, 2015, in the rebel-held town of Douma, Syria.

Zahran Alloush, the leader of a prominent Syrian rebel group, is believed to have been killed in an airstrike near Syria's capital Damascus.

The rebel leader was at odds with the Syrian regime, ISIS and secular activists.

NPR's Alice Fordham in Beirut told our Newscast unit that the strike in a rebel-held suburb was aiming at a group of rebel leaders:

"Syrian state media report the commander, Zahran Alloush, who led the rebel Army of Islam, died in an attack on the East Ghouta suburb of Damascus. The airstrike targeted a meeting of senior rebel military leaders. Senior rebel commanders and large local activist groups say they believe that he was killed. They say it was an airstrike by Russian allies of Syrian president Bashar al-Assad.

Alloush was a controversial figure. He was seen as an effective military leader, but also as a hardline, sectarian Sunni Islamist. And his group was accused of kidnapping secular, pro-democracy activists."

What will this mean for this rebel group fighting Assad near Damascus? Reuters reports:

"The death of Zahran Alloush, head of Jaysh al-Islam [the Army of Islam], is a big blow to rebel control of the rural eastern suburban area 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."

These rebels have administered the strategic suburb since 2013, Reuters says.

Alloush's group recently purported to use prisoners from Assad's Alawite sect as human shields, The Associated Press reported:

"Earlier this year, after government airstrikes on the suburbs of Damascus killed dozens, Allouch placed some Alawites that his group was holding in cages in public areas and markets, using them as human shields to try to prevent further airstrikes. Men and women were put in large metal cages on top of trucks that drove around Damascus suburbs."

Alloush's group is accused of kidnapping lawyer and human rights defender Razan Zaitounah more than two years ago. Her family says they hold Alloush responsible for her safety, Human Rights Watch reported. Alloush has denied the accusations.

The Daily Beast published an interview with Alloush earlier this month, where he said the group's priorities "are those initial priorities of the revolution. We want to rid our country of all dictatorial and terrorist projects."

Here's what he said about his hopes for Syria's future:

"We believe that the future of Syria after Assad should be governed by a technocratic body which has the skills and the qualifications. We do not believe that Syria should be ruled by sectarian or partisan rule, but by a technocratic body that represent the diversity of the Syrian people. We do not see ourselves as Islamic. We are Muslims."

You can read the entire interview here.

Copyright 2021 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

Merrit Kennedy is a reporter for NPR's News Desk. She covers a broad range of issues, from the latest developments out of the Middle East to science research news.