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US does not confirm Turkey’s claim of killing Islamic State leader in Syria

The US administration said it had no information to support Ankara’s claim to have killed the Islamic State leader.
BAKR ALKASEM/AFP via Getty Images

ANKARA — Washington said on Monday it could not confirm Turkey's claim to have launched a military operation that killed the leader of the Islamic State in Syria.

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan said Sunday that his country killed the leader of the Islamist militant group 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 been under surveillance by Turkish intelligence for a long time.

The United States, which is leading an international military coalition against the Islamic State in Syria and Iraq, has not confirmed Erdogan’s claim that the IS leader had been killed. “We are unable to confirm this. Furthermore, we have no information that would support this claim," a US official told Al-Monitor via email.

There was no confirmation from the militant group either.

Yet, citing unidentified security sources, Turkey’s state-run Anadolu News Agency reported on Monday that Qurashi was killed after a four-hour-long raid carried out at his hideout in the northern Syrian town of Jindires near 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 broached the hideout’s entrance and rear walls, according to the report, which read that there were no Turkish casualties.

Farhad Shami, spokesperson for the US-backed and Kurdish-led Syrian Democratic Forces, claimed that the radical jihadi group’s leader had been under the protection of the armed Syrian opposition group Ahrar al-Sharqiya. The group operates under the Turkish-backed Syrian National Army.

Turkey considers SDF a terror group and equates it with the outlawed Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK), the armed outfit designated as a terrorist group over its decades-long separatist campaign in Turkey. Washington also considers the PKK a terrorist organization, but it has allied with the Kurdish-led SDF as part of the international campaign to defeat the IS in Syria and Iraq. 

Turkey, which backs Sunni Syrian rebels fighting to oust Assad, controls a large chunk of territory in northern Syria and has carried out three ground incursions in Syria against the SDF. 

The Turkish military operations drew strong criticism from the US-led international coalition that the incursions risk unleashing a jihadist resurgence by the Islamic State group. 

Speaking late Sunday, Erdogan said his country would continue its fight against terrorist organizations “without discriminating against any of them.”

The timing of the killing coincided with Erdogan's election campaign, with Turkey’s fateful parliamentary and presidential polls merely two weeks away. 

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