The US military confirmed on Tuesday that Monday’s drone strike in northwestern Syria killed senior Islamic State (ISIS) leader Khalid Aydd Ahmad al-Jabouri, who was responsible for planning attacks in Europe and developed the leadership structure for ISIS in Turkey.
According to the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, al-Jabouri, who was an Iraqi national posing as Syrian, had sought refuge two weeks ago in Syria’s jihadist-run Idlib region where he was killed.
Although ISIS was ousted from its last stronghold in Syria by Kurdish forces in 2019, it is “still capable of conducting operations within the region with a desire to strike beyond the Middle East”, according to CENTCOM chief General Michael Kurilla. The jihadist group has claimed responsibility for a number of deadly attacks in Europe in recent years, including the 2015 attack in Paris which killed 130 people, a 2016 attack in Nice that killed 86, and three suicide attacks in Belgium in the same year which killed over 30. In August 2017, ISIS also claimed responsibility for attacks in Barcelona and elsewhere in Spain that killed 16 people.
The death of al-Jabouri is seen as a significant blow to ISIS, and will “temporarily disrupt the organisation’s ability to plot external attacks”, CENTCOM said. However, experts and Kurdish officials have warned that he will be replaced as the group continues to pose a threat to the region and beyond.
The United States has around 900 troops remaining in Syria, most of whom are in the Kurdish-administered northeast. Kurdish forces form part of a US-led coalition battling remnants of ISIS, who remain active in both Syria and neighbouring Iraq. Despite no longer controlling any territory in Syria or Iraq, ISIS continues to represent a threat to the region and beyond.
The death of al-Jabouri comes two months after a US helicopter raid killed ISIS commander Hamza Al-Homsi, who oversaw the jihadists’ operations in north-eastern Syria. The coalition has been working to eliminate ISIS leaders and fighters in an effort to prevent them from regrouping and launching new attacks.