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  • The San Juan Daily Star

Islamic State chief is dead and new one is picked. Both are unknown.

American soldiers and Syrian militia members in Dayrik, Syria, near the border with Iraq and Turkey, in September.

By Ben Hubbard

The jihadis of the Islamic State group announced earlier this week that their leader, whose identity had remained shrouded in mystery, had been killed in battle less than nine months after taking charge of the terrorist organization.

A spokesperson for U.S. Central Command, which oversees U.S. troops in Syria, confirmed that the leader was dead, saying he had been killed in mid-October by anti-government rebels in southern Syria.

The Islamic State group also named a successor, but provided no information about him other than a nom de guerre.

The leadership transition, announced through a voice message on Telegram, came at a time of extreme weakness for the group, which has been reduced in only a few years from the world’s most fearsome terrorist network to a low-level insurgency struggling to maintain its relevance in mostly rural parts of countries torn by conflict.

At its height, the Islamic State group ruled a self-proclaimed caliphate the size of Britain that spanned the border between Syria and Iraq and boasted tens of thousands of fighters from around the world. Its extremist vision of eternal combat between its forces and anyone who opposed them inspired deadly attacks in Paris, Brussels, Istanbul, Berlin, Baghdad and other major cities.

But an international coalition led by the United States worked with local forces in Iraq and Syria to fight it, finally pushing it from its last patch of territory in eastern Syria in March 2019.

Since then, Islamic State fighters have continued to attack civilians and security forces in Syria, Iraq, Afghanistan and parts of Africa, but with greatly weakened abilities, while its leadership has been decimated by the United States’ military and its partner forces.

The leader whose death was announced Wednesday went by the name Abu al-Hassan al-Hashimi al-Qurayshi. He had been named by the group in March, after its two previous leaders had been killed in separate raids by U.S. special forces on safe houses in northern Syria.

Little was known about the slain leader’s background, including his real name, or any steps that he took to try to revive the organization.

The message released Wednesday said only that he had been killed “fighting the enemies of God,” and that he had been suceeded by Abu al-Hussein al-Husseini al-Qurayshi, also a nom de guerre, whose real identity was not known.

In a statement, Col. Joe Buccino, a spokesperson for U.S. Central Command, called the leader’s death “another blow” to the Islamic State group.

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