Top Islamic State group leader killed in Syria by Turkish intelligence services, Erdogan says
Representational photo: A Turkish Special Forces Sniper Instructor spots targets at long range at the International Specialty Training Center (ISTC) Alpine Sniper Course, in Hochfilzen training area, Austria, September 24th, 2021. (U.S. Army photo by Sgt. Patrik Orcutt via U.S. Defense Visual Information Distribution Service)
ISTANBUL (Reuters) - Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan said on Sunday that Turkish intelligence forces killed Islamic State leader Abu Hussein al-Qurashi in Syria.
"This individual was neutralized as part of an operation by the Turkish national intelligence organization in Syria yesterday," Erdogan said in an interview with TRT Turk broadcaster.
Erdogan said the intelligence organization had pursued Qurashi for a long time.
Syrian local and security sources said the raid took place in the northern Syrian town of Jandaris, which is controlled by Turkey-backed rebel groups and was one of the worst-affected in the Feb. 6 earthquake that hit both Turkey and Syria.
The Syrian National Army, an opposition faction with a security presence in the area, did not immediately issue any comment.
One resident said clashes started on the edge of Jandaris overnight from Saturday into Sunday, lasting for about an hour before residents heard a large explosion.
The area was later encircled by security forces to prevent anyone from approaching the area.
IS selected al-Qurashi as its leader in November 2022 after the previous IS leader was killed in an operation in southern Syria.
Islamic State took over vast swathes of Iraq and Syria in 2014, and its head at the time, Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, declared an Islamic caliphate across territory that housed millions.
But IS lost its grip on the territory after campaigns by U.S.-backed forces in Syria and Iraq, as well as Syrian forces backed by Iran, Russia and various paramilitaries.
Its remaining thousands of militants have in recent years mostly hid out in remote hinterlands of both countries, though they are still capable of carrying out major hit-and-run attacks.
The U.S.-led coalition alongside a Kurdish-led alliance known as the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) is still carrying out raids against IS officials in Syria.
In some cases, senior IS figures have been targeted while hiding out in areas where Turkey has major influence.
(Reporting by Khalil Ashawi in Istanbul, Suleiman Khalidi in Amman and Ezgi Erkoyun; Writing by Maya Gebeily; Editing by Lisa Shumaker and Richard Chang)