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US forces kill senior Islamic State official in pre-dawn Syria raid: official

Local reports said several US helicopters were involved in an operation in an area controlled by the opposition Suqour al-Sham militia.
A general view shows a burnt out vehicle next to a banner bearing the Islamic State group's flag in the village of Dibsiafnan on the western outskirts of the Islamist's Syrian bastion of Raqa, after Syrian pro-government forces entered the area on June 11, 2017. / AFP PHOTO / George OURFALIAN (Photo credit should read GEORGE OURFALIAN/AFP via Getty Images)

US special operations forces killed a senior leader of the Islamic State's Syria franchise during a helicopter-borne raid in the country's northwest before dawn on Monday, a US official told Al-Monitor.

Two other armed individuals were also killed during the operation, the official said, adding that no US troops or civilians were reported to have been hurt. 

"US Central Command forces conducted a unilateral helicopter raid in northern Syria in the early morning of April 17th targeting a Senior ISIS-Syria leader and operational planner responsible for planning terror attacks in the Middle East and Europe. The raid resulted in the probable death of the targeted individual," US Central Command said in an initial statement early on Monday.

Later on Monday, CENTCOM released a second statement saying US forces had confirmed the identity of the deceased IS official as Abdul-Hadi Mahmoud al-Haji Ali. CENTCOM said Ali was "the primary target of the raid" and that the two other individuals killed during the operation were "ISIS operatives."

"This operation was launched after intelligence revealed an ISIS plot to kidnap officials abroad as leverage for ISIS initiatives," CENTCOM said.

"Extensive planning went into this operation to ensure its successful execution," CENTCOM's initial statement read. No US helicopters were damaged and no individuals were captured during the raid, the US official told Al-Monitor.

Local reports claimed US helicopters landed near the village of Al-Ghandoura in the countryside outside of Jarabalus before US forces stormed a house. The area is nominally controlled by Syrian militias backed by Turkey.

The US maintains roughly 900 troops in Syria's northeast alongside the Kurdish-led Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) as they continue to track down fugitive IS leaders and secure makeshift prisons holding IS detainees. The Islamic State surrendered its final territory in Syria to the SDF in March 2019.

"Though degraded, ISIS remains able to conduct operations within the region with a desire to strike beyond the Middle East," the head of all US forces in the Middle East, Army Gen. Michael "Erik" Kurilla, said in a statement on Monday following the operation.

A spokesperson for the SDF did not immediately return Al-Monitor's request for comment.

This is a developing story and will be updated.

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