US says strike in Syria has killed senior Islamic State leader | Syria

The US military has said it carried out a strike in Syria, killing a senior Islamic State group official responsible for planning attacks in Europe.

The strike in the north-west of the country on Monday killed the senior IS leader Khalid Aydd Ahmad al-Jabouri, US Central Command said.

It said he was “responsible for planning [IS] attacks into Europe”. The statement did not specify the location of the strike and added that “no civilians were killed or injured”.

“Though degraded”, the jihadist group, which was ousted from its last territory in Syria in 2019, “remains able to conduct operations within the region with a desire to strike beyond the Middle East”, said the Centcom chief, Gen Michael Kurilla.

Jabouri also “developed the leadership structure for IS” and his death would “temporarily disrupt the organisation’s ability to plot external attacks”, Centcom said.

Islamic State has claimed a number of deadly attacks in Europe in recent years, including the November 2015 attack in Paris and its suburbs that killed 130 people and another in the French city of Nice in July 2016 that killed 86 people.

The same year, three suicide attacks in Belgium killed more than 30 people. In August 2017, attacks claimed by IS in Barcelona and elsewhere in Spain killed 16 people.

The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, a Britain-based monitor of the more than decade-old conflict in Syria, said Jabouri was killed in a US drone strike in the Idlib region of the north-west, an area run by jihadists.

It said he was killed while speaking on a telephone as he walked in the open near where he was staying.

The Observatory said Jabouri, an Iraqi who was posing as a Syrian, had sought refuge in the area about 10 days ago.

Damien Ferré, the founder of the Jihad Analytics group, said Jabouri’s real name was Khalil Abdullah al-Khulaif and that he had operated from the Deir Ezzor region of eastern Syria. “As always, he will be replaced,” Ferré told AFP, adding: “It’s still a blow to the group.”

Kurilla said that despite no longer controlling any territory in either Syria or Iraq, IS “continues to represent a threat to the region and beyond”.

“Centcom remains committed to the enduring defeat” of IS, he added.

About 900 US troops remain in Syria, mostly in the Kurdish-administered north-east, as part of a US-led coalition battling the remnants of IS, which remains active in Syria and neighbouring Iraq, operating out of hideouts in desert and mountain areas.

In October 2019, the US announced it had killed the IS leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi in an operation in north-western Syria. His two successors have also been killed: the first in a US operation in north-western Syria, the second in an operation by former Syrian rebels in the south.

In February, a US helicopter raid killed the IS commander Hamza al-Homsi, who oversaw the jihadists’ operations in north-eastern Syria. Four US military personnel were wounded in the operation.

“Nowhere is a ‘safe zone’ for IS leaders in Syria – apart from the Badia desert area in Homs province,” Ferré said.

Inside Syria, IS has carried out a spate of deadly attacks this year, many of them opportunistic.

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