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Syria: Hayat Tahrir al-Sham denies it knew of US strike against Islamic State chief

Armed group says it was unaware that Abu Ibrahim al-Hashimi al-Qurayshi lived in an area under its control
US officials said Qurayshi lived on the third floor of the house it raided above an 'unwitting family' that was not associated with Islamic State (AFP)

The Syrian armed group Hayat Tahrir al-Sham (HTS) has denied it knew the head of Islamic State (IS), who died during a US raid last week, lived in an area under its control.

Abu Ibrahim al-Hashimi al-Qurayshi blew himself up on Thursday during the nighttime raid on his house in Syria's northwest region of Idlib, which is mostly controlled by HTS.

A coalition of fighters, including some factions formerly aligned with al-Qaeda, HTS is a rival to IS.

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"We were not aware of such an operation before it happened," the group said in a statement on Sunday, adding that it was also unaware of "the identity of the residents" of the house that was targeted by US special forces.

"We condemn this [US] operation," HTS added, saying it would continue to "fight against vices and crime".

Local sources told Middle East Eye that a HTS fighter had been killed by US special forces during the raid and another member wounded.

The men had approached the scene of the attack with their weapons to see what was going on and were attacked by the US special forces who thought they were from IS, they said.

US officials said Qurayshi lived on the third floor of the house it raided above an “unwitting family” that was not associated with IS.

The officials said the IS leader blew himself up, killing members of his own family, during the operation in Idlib's Atmeh, about 2km from the Turkish border.

Operations against IS

HTS occasionally carries out operations against IS-affiliated cells in the region - Syria's last main rebel bastion - according to the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights.

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The UK-based activist group, which relies on a network of sources inside Syria, said HTS had fought fighters affiliated to IS in recent months.

HTS controls around half of Idlib province as well as slivers of territory in the neighbouring provinces of Aleppo, Hama and Latakia.

In recent years, the group has tried to cast itself as a more moderate player focused only on Syrian matters and condemning international terrorism.

The Idlib area is the last enclave to actively oppose the government of Syria President Bashar al-Assad.

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