BEIRUT (AP) — Syria’s main insurgent al-Qaida-linked group denied it was behind the killing of the Islamic State group’s leader in the country’s northwest saying it would have otherwise claimed responsibility.
The security arm of Hayat Tahrir al-Sham, or HTS, made the announcement Friday night, a day after IS blamed the Syrian insurgent group for the death of its little-known leader, Abu al-Hussein al-Husseini al-Qurayshi, who headed the extremist organization since November.
“We categorically deny this claim,” the spokesman of HTS, General Security Diaa al-Omar, said in a terse statement.
He said HTS would continue to fight “evil acts” by IS in rebel-held parts of Syria, adding that had his group been behind al-Qurayshi’s death “we would have given the good news to Muslims and announced it directly.”
Al-Qurayshi was the fourth IS leader to be killed since the group was founded by Iraqi militant Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi and declared a caliphate in large parts of Syria and Iraq in June 2014 before its defeat years later.
Abu Hafs al-Hashemi al-Qurayshi was named the group’s new leader on Thursday.
The Islamic State group broke away from al-Qaida a decade ago and attracted supporters from around the world. Despite its defeat in Iraq in 2017 and in Syria two years later, IS militants still carry out deadly attacks in both countries and elsewhere.
Since IS broke away from al-Qaida, both groups fought deadly battles over the past years in northern Syria.
In April, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan said Turkish intelligence agents had killed al-Qurayshi in northern Syria — a statement that IS denied saying he was killed by HTS and was later handed over to Turkish authorities.