A US helicopter raid on Monday killed a senior Islamic State group leader in Syria suspected of plotting attacks in Europe and the Middle East, US Central Command said.
“Early this morning, April 17, US Central Command forces killed Abd-al Hadi Mahmud al-Haji Ali, a senior ISIS Syria leader,” Centcom said in a statement, using another acronym for IS.
It said he was an “operational planner responsible for planning terror attacks in the Middle East and Europe”.
The operation was launched “after intelligence revealed an ISIS plot to kidnap officials abroad to use as leverage”, the statement said.
An earlier Centcom statement said the raid in northern Syria had “resulted in the probable death of the targeted individual”, without naming him.
“Two other ISIS operatives were killed in the raid,” both statements said, without identifying them either.
No civilians or US troops were hurt, the first statement said.
The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said the strike targeted a building in Al-Suwaydah village about 25 kilometres (15 miles) west of the town of Jarabulus on Syria’s northern border with Turkey.
The Britain-based war monitor, which relies on sources on the ground, said the strike killed the main target and two other fighters.
The IS member had previously been imprisoned in Kurdish-held Manbij, south of Jarabulus, the Observatory said.
He had taken refuge in the Al-Suwaydah area around six months earlier under the protection of a pro-Turkish group, it added.
Local residents told AFP the man was killed as he was trying to flee and that his body was handed over to one of his brothers.
– ‘Desire to strike’ –
A Turkish-backed rebel group deployed in the Al-Suwaydah area said in a statement that two of its fighters were killed after they went to the site of the raid.
Many former IS militants joined pro-Turkish groups after the jihadists lost their last scraps of territory in Syria in March 2019, Observatory chief Rami Abdel Rahman said.
Earlier this month, the US military said it had launched a strike in Syria killing senior IS leader Khalid Aydd Ahmad al-Jabouri, who Centcom said was responsible for planning attacks in Turkey and Europe.
In October 2019, Washington announced it had killed IS leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi in an operation in northwestern Syria.
His two successors have also been killed: the first in a US operation in northwestern Syria and the second in an operation by former Syrian rebels in the country’s south.
About 900 US troops remain in Syria, most in the Kurdish-administered northeast, as part of a US-led coalition battling remnants of IS, which remains active in both Syria and neighbouring Iraq, operating out of hideouts in desert and mountain areas.
IS “remains able to conduct operations within the region with a desire to strike beyond the Middle East”, Centcom chief General Michael Kurilla was quoted as saying in Monday’s first statement.
In separate attacks on Sunday, suspected IS fighters killed at least 36 truffle hunters and five shepherds in Syria, the Observatory reported, with 17 pro-regime fighters among the dead.