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Syria: Top Iraqi militant leader killed in Islamic State attack in Syria, says HTS

Abu Maria al-Qahtani had been Hay'at Tahrir al-Sham's second-in-command despite being detained by his own group in August
Fighters from Hay'at Tahrir al-Sham (HTS), headed by ex-members of Syria's former al-Qaeda franchise, take part in a military training graduation ceremony in the country's rebel-held northwestern Idlib province on 16 August 2023 (Omar Haj Kadour/AFP)

A senior Iraqi militant leader has been killed in a suicide bombing carried out by rival militant group the Islamic State in Syria.

"Abu Maria al-Qahtani was martyred after a treacherous attack by an Islamic State group member using an explosive belt," said Hay'at Tahrir al-Sham (HTS), a former affiliate of al-Qaeda, on its Amjad media outlet.

The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights war monitor said Qahtani, whose real name is Maysara al-Jubouri, "was killed and two of his companions seriously injured after a suicide bomber blew himself up".

IS have yet to claim responsibility for the attack.

HTS, a powerful militant group that grew out of Syria's al-Qaeda branch, has held Idlib province and parts of the Aleppo countryside in a firm grip since becoming the dominant power in rebel-held territory in 2019.

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Qahtani was one of HTS's most powerful militants and one of the founders of the group's former offshoot in Syria that renamed itself Hay'at Tahrir al-Sham after it broke ties with al-Qaeda.

HTS arrested Qahtani last August as part of a wide crackdown on its own ranks and fighters in other armed groups, detaining dozens of people accusing them of treason and espionage.

The group claimed Qahtani had improperly used social media and external communications.

Affiliated media outlets, meanwhile, in January published alleged parts of Qahtani's interrogation, during which he admitted his cooperation with an Iraqi official who had contact with the intelligence services of the US, UK, France and Israel.

According to the France-based Syrian Network for Human Rights, HTS is responsible for the killing of more than 500 civilians and the enforced disappearance of 3,000 people since 2011.

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