Contradicting Turkey’s claim of having killed the Islamic State (ISIS) leader Abu al-Hussein al-Husseini al-Quraishi in April, the jihadist group, Hayat Tahrir al-Sham (HTS), announced his death on 3 August. According to a report by Amberin Zaman for Al-Monitor, ISIS stated that the self-styled “caliph” was killed in clashes with HTS, the al-Qaeda offshoot dominant in Syria’s Idlib province, and not by Turkey.
US officials have expressed doubt over Turkey’s claim, with one Biden administration official stating to Al-Monitor, “Turkey lied.” Another US military official considered ISIS’ allegation of HTS responsibility as credible.
ISIS has named Abu Hafs al-Hashimi al-Quraishi as its new leader, the fifth since the group’s founding. Washington was aware of the leadership change before it was announced, a senior US military official revealed.
In June, the United Nations Security Council expressed doubts about the responsibility for the leader’s death. Turkey’s President Recep Tayyip Erdogan had previously claimed that Turkish intelligence forces killed the ISIS leader in Syria’s Afrin (Efrîn), a Kurdish-majority enclave occupied by Turkey in 2017. The announcement, made just before landmark elections, was met with scepticism.
The rebuttal from ISIS has revived debate over Erdogan’s claim and refocused attention on the complex relationship between Turkey and HTS. Turkey has an estimated 10,000 troops in Idlib, its second-largest overseas deployment after Northern Cyprus, effectively providing a security umbrella for HTS and its “Salvation Government.”