Islamic State Finally Admits Top Leader Is Dead

ISIS flag
ISIS flag (Getty Images)

The Islamic State on Thursday confirmed the April death of its leader, Abu Hussein al-Husseini al-Quraishi, and named Abu Hafs al-Hashimi al-Quraishi as his replacement, the group's spokesman said in an undated recording published on its Telegram channel.

It appeared to be the militant group's first official announcement on his fate since Turkish president Recep Tayyip Erdoğan said in April that Turkish intelligence forces had killed him in Syria. Erdoğan said the Turkish national intelligence organization had pursued Quraishi for a long time.

Abu Hussein al-Husseini al-Quraishi is the third leader of the Islamic State, also known as ISIS, to be killed in in less that two years, the Wall Street Journal reported. The group, which controlled large portions of Iraq and Syria until a U.S.-led military force beat it back in 2019, has long had difficulty acknowledging when a leader is killed. The group last year took a month to report the death of its previous leader.

The group's spokesman said Abu Hussein al-Husseini al-Quraishi was killed during a gun battle with Hayat Tahrir al Sham (HTS), the main Islamist group that holds sway in the last opposition bastion in northwest Syria. The spokesman accused HTS of acting as agents of Turkish intelligence.

"The Sheikh (Quraishi), may God have mercy on him, was killed after they [HTS] tried to take him captive. He clashed with them with his arms until he died of his wounds," the spokesman said.

The Islamic State, a shadow of the organization that once ruled a third of Iraq and Syria, gave no details about the new leader.

The movement reached its peak in 2014 when its then-head, Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, declared the territory it controlled a caliphate.

It was beaten back by adversaries in both countries, including a U.S.-led coalition, and Baghdadi was killed during a U.S. military operation in Syria in 2019.

Abu Hussein al-Husseini al-Quraishi took over in November 2022 after his predecessor was killed, also in Syria.

Islamic State militants continue to wage insurgent attacks in both Syria and Iraq.

Its remaining thousands of militants have in recent years mostly hid out in remote hinterlands of both countries, though they are still capable of carrying out hit-and-run attacks.

The U.S.-led coalition alongside a Kurdish-led alliance known as the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) is still carrying out raids against Islamic State in Syria.

(Reporting by Jana Choukeir, Nayera Abdallah, and Nadine Awadalla. Writing by Enas Alashray. Editing by Andrew Heavens and Grant McCool.)