BEIRUT (AP) – The Islamic State (IS) group confirmed for the first time on Thursday that its leader was killed in a United States (US) strike in northwestern Syria last month and named his successor.
It was the first official comment from the militant group about its leader Abu Ibrahim al-Hashimi al-Qurayshi since US officials said he blew himself up along with members of his family as American forces raided his hideout in the northwestern Syrian town of Atmeh, near the border with Turkey, on February 3.
In an audio message released on Thursday, IS spokesman Abu Omar al-Muhajer confirmed the death of the leader, as well as that of the group’s former spokesman, Abu Hamza al-Qurayshi, in the raid.
Al-Muhajer also said that IS has named a successor to the former leader, identifying him as Abu al-Hassan al-Hashimi al-Qurayshi and saying the late IS chief has chosen him as the next leader.
There was no immediate information about the new leader and it wasn’t known whether he is Iraqi like his two predecessors, both killed in rebel-held parts of Syria. Last month’s US strike was the second time in three years that the US took out the top IS leader.
In the US raid, about 50 US special operations forces landed in helicopters and attacked a house in a rebel-held corner of Syria, clashing for two hours with gunmen. In all, 13 people were killed, including six children and four women. Residents described continuous gunfire and explosions that jolted Atmeh near the Turkish border, an area dotted with camps for internally displaced from Syria’s civil war.