BEIRUT — The Islamic State group announced yesterday the death of its leader Abu al-Hussein al-Husseini al-Qurashi, who it said was killed in clashes in northwestern Syria, and named a successor.
The leader “was killed after direct clashes” with jihadist group Hayat Tahrir al-Sham in Idlib province, an IS spokesman said in a recorded message on its channels on the Telegram messaging app, without specifying when he was killed.
The spokesman announced the group’s new leader — its fifth — as Abu Hafs al-Hashimi al-Qurashi.
In late April, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan said the suspected IS leader had been killed in Syria in an operation carried out by Turkiye’s MIT intelligence agency.
“The suspected leader of Daesh, codename Abu Hussein al-Qurashi, has been neutralised in an operation carried out… by the MIT in Syria,” Erdogan said at the time, using the Arabic acronym for the Islamic State organisation.
Turkish media released images of a fenced-off building in the middle of a field where it said he was hiding in Syria’s Afrin region.
Afrin lies in Aleppo province — neighbouring Idlib — in an area controlled by Turkish-backed rebels.
However, the IS spokesman insisted Thursday that Hayat Tahrir al-Sham (HTS), which controls rebel areas of Idlib province, had killed the group’s chief and handed his body to Turkiye.
IS accuses HTS — which has not claimed any operation targeting the IS leader — of working in Ankara’s interests.
The United States and other Western governments have blacklisted HTS as a terrorist group.
Turkiye’s Anadolu state news agency said at the time that the MIT conducted a four-hour operation during which it located the IS leader.
The IS leader set off his suicide vest when he realised he was about to be captured, Anadolu said, adding that no Turkish operatives were killed or injured.
After a meteoric rise in Iraq and Syria in 2014 that saw it conquer vast swathes of territory, IS saw its self-proclaimed “caliphate” collapse under a wave of offensives.
The Sunni Muslim extremist group’s austere and terror-ridden rule was marked by beheadings and mass shootings.
It was defeated in Iraq in 2017 and in Syria two years later, but sleeper cells still carry out attacks in both countries.
In November last year, IS said its previous leader, Abu Hasan al-Hashimi al-Qurashi, had been killed.
His predecessor, Abu Ibrahim al-Qurashi, was killed in February last year in a US raid in Idlib province.
The group’s first “caliph”, Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, was killed, also in Idlib, in October 2019. — AFP