02/04/2022, 18.08
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Raid against al-Qurayshi amid fighting among Islamist factions near Idlib

by Marta Ottaviani

The US operation that took out al-Baghdadi's successor relied on local intelligence, Turkish assistance, as well as the support of other jihadi groups who had an interest in his elimination. For Syrian journalist, a Salafi group, Hay’at Tahrir al-Sham, might be behind it but will never admit it. Civilians are paying the price for the violence.

Milan (AsiaNews) – A war between groups in Northern Syria, a US president trying to regain lost political ground, and an unreliable ally that was finally willing to collaborate are the main factors behind the death of Abu Ibrahim al-Hashimi al-Qurayshi.

According to the latest information from the US administration, the successor of Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi at the helm of what is left of the Islamic State (IS) group blew himself up with his wife and two children before US special operation forces got inside hiding place, which he never left.

The terrorist is blamed for the Yazidi genocide in 2014, as well as the attack against the Kurdish-run Ghwayran prison in Hasakah (Hesekê), which freed IS militants.

Unlike al-Baghdadi, al-Qurayshi kept a very low profile. Reserved, he never appeared in public and did not leave his hideout except on the roof, not far from Atmeh, a town wedged between the provinces of Aleppo and Idlib, just a few kilometres from the Turkish border.

Pentagon press secretary John Kirby said that the US operation tried to avoid as many civilian casualties as possible and did not involve any airstrikes.

Some 50 US special operation forces reportedly evacuated 12 people from the building before the IS leader blew himself up.

The Biden administration quickly too credit for the success, which it actually needed. The US president is still in the eye of the storm after pulling out of Afghanistan, but it remains to be seen how the latest action will play out.

The Idlib area is mainly controlled by the Free Syrian Army (FSA), a group protected by Turkey; however, according to some international observers, some Islamist groups take advantage of Ankara’s protection as well.

Outside Idlib, various groups are war with each other. One of them is al-Qaida with its many bases; another is Atmel. Several other equally dangerous jihadi groups are also present but opposed to IS.

One of these might have tipped off the Americans. And Turkey probably played a role as well, if for no other reason than logistical coordination.

“It is still hard to figure out who passed the information to the Americans,” said Sultan Alkani, a Syrian journalist expert of the area, speaking to AsiaNews.

“We must keep in mind that the United States had very detailed information that could only come from the Idlib region,” he explained.

Although there is no definitive proof, fingers point to Hay’at Tahrir al-Sham[*], a Salafi military organisation.

“We cannot be sure that they were behind it,” said Alkani, “but there is no doubt that IS’s elimination would be in Hay’at Tahrir al-Sham’s interest, and that they are among the very few to have a thorough knowledge of that territory.

“However, if they did it, it will be difficult to know,” he added. “Passing intelligence to the coalition would be seriously embarrassing vis-à-vis their followers.”

Turkey too benefits from Abu Ibrahim al-Hashimi al-Qurayshi’s demise because it took place outside the areas under its immediate control, but the tensions between the various groups in the area are putting a strain on the Turkish-backed FSA.

Civilians are paying the price for this situation. Not only are they caught in the crossfire but they are feeling the effects of increasingly difficult living conditions as well as the devaluation of the Turkish lira, which has been used locally as a parallel currency for the past two years.

[*] Organisation for the Liberation of the Levant or Levant Liberation Committee.

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