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US officials refute Turkey’s claim about killing ISIL leader in Syria: report

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Officials from the US administration have denied claims by Turkey that it killed an Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) leader in Syria in April, saying they find a claim by the militant group about the killing of its leader by a rival group in Syria to be more credible, the Al Monitor news website reported.

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan claimed on April 30 that Turkey had killed an ISIL leader in Syria, identifying him as Abu al-Hussein al-Husseini al-Qurashi. “This individual was neutralized in Syria yesterday by an operation carried out by our intelligence agency,” he said during a live interview, adding that the militant leader had long been under surveillance by Turkish intelligence.

At the time, the United States, which leads an international military coalition against ISIL in Syria and Iraq, had not confirmed Erdoğan’s claim that the ISIL leader had been killed, nor was there a confirmation from the militant group.

However, ISIL confirmed the death of Quraishi on Aug. 3, saying that its self-styled “caliph” had been killed in clashes with the rival Hayat Tahrir al-Sham (HTS), the al-Qaeda offshoot that is dominant in Syria’s Idlib province, and not by Turkey. ISIL said HTS, which it called “Turkey’s tail,” had handed his body over to Turkish intelligence in a recorded message posted on the Telegram messaging app.

US administration officials speaking to Al-Monitor not for attribution confirmed that the ISIL leader had not been slain by Turkey. “Turkey lied,” one of the officials said. One US military official phrased things more diplomatically, telling Al-Monitor this week that there was reason to doubt Turkey’s claim, adding that ISIL’s allegation of HTS responsibility was seen as credible.

Turkey’s state-run Anadolu news agency had reported, citing unidentified security sources, that Qurashi was killed after a four-hour-raid on his hideout in the northern Syrian town of Jindires near the Afrin countryside on April 29. The region, which remains under the control of the Turkish-backed armed Syrian opposition groups, is less than 15 kilometers (nine miles) from the Turkish border.

Turkish special operations units first blasted the walls of the compound surrounding Qurashi’s hideout, Anadolu reported. Qurashi blew himself up by detonating a suicide vest after the unit breached the hideout’s entrance and rear walls, according to the report, which said there were no Turkish casualties.

Dutch journalist Frederike Geerdink, who covers Kurdish and political issues in Turkey for Dutch media, commented on Al Monitor’s report, saying that any military statement Turkey makes should be taken with a kilo of salt as she accused the pro-government media outlets such as Anadolu of spreading lies.


ISIL said it had named Abu Hafs al-Hashimi al-Quraishi as its new leader, the fifth since the founding of the group. It did not specify when his predecessor had been killed. Typically ISIL does not confirm the death of its leader until the group has selected a new one. A senior US military official speaking on condition of anonymity at the Pentagon earlier this month said Washington was aware of the leadership change before it was announced.

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