In a statement late on 30 April, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan announced that the global leader of the Islamic State (IS), Abu al-Hussein al-Qurayshi was dead, having been killed in a Turkish intelligence operation in northern Syria on 29 April.
According to Turkish sources, covert operatives from the National Intelligence Organisation (MIT) had been monitoring the IS leader for several weeks.
If Turkey’s claims are corroborated, this would represent the third IS leader to have been killed in 14 months — placing the leadership of the worldwide jihadist movement under serious and unprecedented strain.
Coming amid the height of election season in Turkey, such a counter-terrorism achievement also looks set to offer Erdogan a new playing card to exploit — particularly given news that a 29 April Turkish drone strike near Kobani also killed Abdullah Sabri, the alleged intelligence chief of the People’s Defense Units (YPG).
According to Syrian opposition sources in the Jandaris area, elite MIT paramilitaries sealed off the main roads leading to a compound north of the town late on 28 April. The compound itself — located in a rural location surrounded by olive groves — was then besieged and its occupants ordered to surrender.
After a short period of time, heavy clashes erupted, triggered by gunfire from within the compound. Shortly thereafter, Abu al-Hussein al-Qurayshi blew himself up in the front reception room facing the compound gates. The compound remained sealed off from public access the next day, as evidence was collected from the building.
Almost nothing is known about Abu al-Hussein’s identity. In the IS official announcement declaring his succession to leadership in late-November 2022, the terror group claimed only that he was a veteran of the jihadist struggle. He is thought to be Iraqi, but that has been the extent of public information.
Such level of mystery is not reflective of the Islamic State’s ability to shroud its leaders in secrecy — it is the consequence of the severe pressure placed on its leadership in recent years.
The Islamic State’s notorious leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi was killed in north-western Syria in October 2019; his successor Abu Ibrahim al-Qurayshi was killed in February 2022; and his successor Abu al-Hassan al-Qurayshi was killed just eight months later in southern Syria in October 2022, leading to Abu al-Hussein’s rise to power.