ISTANBUL — Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan said on Sunday that Turkish intelligence forces killed Islamic State leader Abu Hussein al-Qurashi in Syria.
“This individual was neutralized yesterday as part of an operation carried out by Turkey’s national intelligence organization in Syria,” Erdoğan said in an interview with TRT Turk TV channel.
Erdoğan said the intelligence organization has been pursuing Qurashi for a long time.
Syrian local and security sources said the raid took place in the northern Syrian town of Jandaris, which is controlled by Turkish-backed rebel groups and was one of the hardest hit by the February 6 earthquake that hit both Turkey and Syria.
The Syrian National Army, an opposition faction with a security presence in the area, did not immediately comment.
A resident said clashes began near Jandaris overnight from Saturday to Sunday, lasting about an hour before residents heard a large explosion.
The area was then surrounded by security forces to prevent anyone from approaching it.
ISIS chose al-Qurashi as leader in November after former ISIS leader was killed in an operation in southern Syria.
The Islamic State took control of large swaths of Iraq and Syria in 2014, and its leader at the time, Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, declared an Islamic caliphate in territory that was home to millions.
But IS lost its grip on the territory after campaigns by US-backed forces in Syria and Iraq, as well as Syrian forces backed by Iran, Russia and various paramilitaries.
Its thousands of remaining militants have been hiding in recent years mostly in the remote hinterlands of both countries, though they are still capable of carrying out major hit-and-run attacks.
The US-led coalition alongside a Kurdish-led alliance known as the Syrian Democratic Forces is still carrying out raids against IS officials in Syria.
In some cases, senior IS operatives have been targeted while hiding in areas where Turkey wields major influence.