The United States is so far declining to back up claims by Turkey that Ankara’s forces have killed the current leader of the Islamic State terror group following an operation in northern Syria.
Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan made the claim during an interview with broadcaster TRT on Sunday, saying IS leader Abu al-Hussein al-Husseini al-Qurashi “was neutralized as part of an operation by the Turkish national intelligence organization in Syria [Saturday].”
Turkish media, citing security sources, reported the operation took place in the northern Syrian town of Jandaris, in an area controlled by Turkish-backed rebel groups, and that the IS leader had been under surveillance for some time.
A U.S. official, speaking to VOA on the condition of anonymity, said that so far Washington has seen nothing to suggest the Islamic State leader has indeed been killed.
“We are unable to confirm this,” the official said. "Furthermore, we have no information that would support this claim."
Little is known about IS leader Abu al-Hussein beyond his kunya, or nom-du-guerre.
The first mention of his name came this past November, when the terror group proclaimed him as the new IS leader in the same message in which it announced the death of his predecessor, Abu al-Hassan al-Hashimi al-Qurashi.
U.S. officials, however, have told VOA that unlike his predecessors, Abu al-Hussein is not part of the group that founded IS and is, instead, among the first of a new generation of leaders now charting the terror group’s course.
Intelligence shared by the U.S. and by United Nations member states in a series of public reports over the past year indicate IS leaders, like Abu al-Hussein, have been trying to keep low profiles to escape from counterterrorism pressure that has resulted in the death or capture of at least 13 senior officials since early 2022.
That includes the death of a key, senior IS official in a U.S. raid last month in northern Syria. U.S. military officials said Abd-al-Hadi Mahmud al-Haji Ali was responsible for planning attacks in Europe and at the time of his death was directing a plot to kidnap foreign officials.
Sunday’s announcement of the death of the IS leader is not the first time Turkey has claimed a major victory in the fight against IS.
Last May, Turkish security officials said they had captured Abu al-Hussein’s predecessor during a raid in Istanbul.
U.S. and Western intelligence officials later determined that the claim was overstated, and that the captured IS official was Bashar Hattab Ghazal Al Sumaidai, a senior leader in the organization.
Turkey’s Erdogan is up for reelection, with Turkish voters set to go to the polls May 14.
Opinion polls show him facing a tough reelection bid and he recently canceled a series of campaign appearances due to what was described as an intestinal infection.
VOA reached out to the Turkish Embassy in Washington about Erdogan’s claims regarding the IS leader but has yet to receive a response.