The ISIL (ISIS) group has confirmed the death of its leader, Abu Hussein al-Husseini al-Qurashi, and named Abu Hafs al-Hashimi al-Qurashi as his replacement.
The group said on Thursday that its leader had been killed in “direct clashes” with the Hayat Tahrir al-Sham group in Idlib province in rebel-held northwestern Syria.
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The announcement was made by an ISIL spokesman in a recorded message on its channels on the Telegram messaging app, without specifying when he was killed.
Turkey’s President Recep Tayyip Erdogan said in April that Turkish intelligence forces had killed the leader in Syria.
“The suspected leader of Daesh, codename Abu Hussein al-Qurashi, has been neutralised in an operation carried out… by the MIT [National Intelligence Organisation] in Syria,” Erdogan said at the time, using the Arabic acronym for ISIL.
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 ISIL spokesman claimed on Thursday that Hayat Tahrir al-Sham, which controls parts of Idlib province, had killed the group’s chief and handed his body to Turkey.
ISIL accuses HTS – which has not claimed any operation targeting the ISIL leader – of working in Ankara’s interests.
The United States and other Western governments have blacklisted HTS as a “terrorist” group.
Turkey’s Anadolu state news agency said at the time that the MIT conducted a four-hour operation during which it located the ISIL leader.
The ISIL 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, ISIL saw its self-proclaimed “caliphate” collapse under a wave of offensives.
The group’s 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.
Abu Hafs al-Hashimi al-Qurashi is the group’s fifth leader since its inception.
In November last year, ISIL 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 United States raid in Idlib province.
The group’s first leader, Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, was killed, also in Idlib, in October 2019.