Islamic State has named a new leader after confirming that its previous head was killed by the US in north-western Syria over a month ago.
In an audio message released on Thursday, an IS spokesman, Abu Omar al-Muhajer, confirmed the death of the group’s leader, Abu Ibrahim al-Hashimi al-Qurayshi, as well as that of its former spokesman, Abu Hamza al-Qurayshi, in the US raid.
Muhajer said IS had named a successor, identifying him as Abu Hassan al-Hashimi al-Qurayshi and saying the late IS chief had chosen him.
“He has accepted the leadership,” Muhajer said of the new chief, without providing his real name.
There was no immediate information about the new leader and it wasn’t known whether he was Iraqi like his two predecessors, both killed in rebel-held parts of Syria.
None of the Qurayshis are believed to be related. “Al-Qurayshi” comes from Quraish, the name of the tribe that Islam’s Prophet Muhammad belonged to, and which serves as part of an IS leader’s nom de guerre.
Abu Ibrahim al-Hashimi al-Qurayshi was killed during an overnight raid by US special forces on 3 February.
US officials said he blew himself up along with members of his family as American forces raided his hideout in the north-western Syrian town of Atme, near the Turkish border.
About 50 US special operations forces landed in helicopters and attacked the house in the rebel-held corner of Syria, clashing for two hours with gunmen. In all, 13 people were killed, including six children and four women.
In a televised address, the US president, Joe Biden, said “this horrible terrorist leader” was accused of the genocide of the Yazidis in northern Iraq and last month’s spectacular assault on a prison holding IS inmates in the east of Syria.
Qurayshi, an Iraqi born in the northern town of Tel Afar, was a veteran of the post-Saddam Hussein Sunni-led insurgency.
He is the fourth senior Isis leader to have been tracked down, captured or killed in Idlib province in the past two years. Qurayshi’s predecessor Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi was killed in October 2019 in a village nine miles (14.5km) south of Atme.
The prevalence of the IS leadership in the area raises the likelihood that the heartland of the group – western Iraq – is no longer the centre of its operations, and that a new generation of leaders is opting for sanctuary on the battlefields of Syria.