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Leader of al-Qaida-linked group killed, Syria claims

| Friday, Oct. 25, 2013, 7:39 p.m.
REUTERS
Free Syrian Army fighters prepare to fire a homemade rocket toward forces loyal to President Bashar Al-Assad on Friday, Oct. 25, 2013, in Ashrafieh, Aleppo.

Syrian state-run TV reported on Friday that the leader of a powerful al-Qaida-linked rebel group has been killed — a claim that if confirmed would be a huge blow to fighters trying to topple President Bashar al-Assad.

At least one rebel commander denied the report.

Abu Mohammad al-Golani heads Jabhat al-Nusra, called the Nusra Front, which has emerged as one of the most effective rebel groups fighting Assad.

The Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, which closely monitors fighting in Syria, said senior Nusra Front leaders contacted by activists in Latakia and the eastern Deir el-Zour province denied al-Golani had been killed.

Other Nusra Front sources said they could not confirm or deny the report “because contact with al-Golani was cut,” the Observatory said in a statement.

A rebel commander in a Damascus suburb said he believed al-Golani was “alive and well” based on his contacts with other fighters, including those from Nusra Front. He declined to be identified for security concerns.

The fragmented rebels have suffered significant losses on the battlefield.

Syrian troops killed at least 40 opposition fighters, including Nusra Front members, in an ambush near Damascus, the government said.

Assad's forces backed by Lebanese Hezbollah gunmen seized control of a rebel ammunition supply route on a highway linking the capital to its eastern suburbs — part of a blistering government offensive to bolster its position amid an international push for peace talks.

State TV said al-Golani was killed in the coastal province of Latakia. It did not say when or give details. News of his death was not mentioned in the main headlines of the TV's late-night news bulletin.

The Nusra Front is on a State Department list of terrorist organizations. The group has claimed responsibility for numerous suicide bombings against government targets.

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