Syrian Observatory for Human Rights (SOHR)* published a report Saturday on members of jihadist groups killed in Turkish-occupied Syrian territories in operations by the International Coalition led by the United States.
The report points out that nearly 50 jihadists were killed in areas under the control of Turkish forces and their proxies in the past few years, concluding that such areas have become the ‘most prominent hotbeds of terrorist and extremist groups such as ISIS, Al-Qaeda, and other jihadist groups’.
The report covers a period of two years and eight months, beginning from the death of Islamic State (ISIS) leader Abu Bakr Al-Baghdadi who was hunted down by US forces 27 October 2019 in an area merely a few km to the Turkish border.
It goes on to give a list of 48 Syrian and non-Syrian jihadists, including leaders and senior members of ISIS, Hurras Al-Din and Al-Qaeda, who were killed by International Coalition forces.
– Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, the head of ISIS, killed on 27 October 2019
– Abu Ahmed Al-Muhajer (killed by a US drone strike on 4 December 2019), the military trainer for a faction affiliated with Hayat Tahrir Al-Sham (HTS), the jihadist group who currently has control over the province of Idlib
– Qassam Al-Urduni, senior official of Hurras Al-Din, and Bilal Al-San’ani, an official of the ‘Jaysh Al-Badiya’ faction (split from HTS), killed on 14 June 2020.
– Former ISIS emirs A’zu Al-Akkal and Fayez Al-Akkal, killed on 20 June 2020.
– Abu Adnan Al-Homsi, the official in charge of military vehicles of Hurras Al-Din, killed on 25 June 2020
– An ISIS commander known as ‘Shujaa Al-Muhammad’, killed on 20 July 2020
– A former commander of Al-Nusra Front, who joined Ahrar Al-Sharqiyyah, killed on 22 October 2021
– A co-founder of Al-Nusra Front, known as ‘Sabahi Al-Ibrahim Al-Musleh’, killed with two of his escorts on 25 October 2021
– Abu Ibrahim al-Hashimi al-Qurayshi, the head of ISIS, killed on 3 February 2022
– Abu Hamza Al-Yemeni, one of the leaders of Hurras Al-Din, killed on 28 June 2022
– Maher al-Agal, one of ISIS leaders, killed on 12 July 2022
ISIS official owning oil trucks in Turkish-occupied area
As an example of close ties between jihadist fighters and Turkish forces, the report notes that a senior ISIS official, explosive expert and drone specialist, the son of an assassinated ISIS leader known as ‘Fawaz Al-Kurdi’, was arrested by US forces on June 2022 in the village of Al-Hamirah in the countryside of Jarablus, four km from the Turkish border.
The report states that Hani Al-Kurdi has been living in an area controlled by Turkish-backed factions for a long time, and owned oil trucks.
The report said:
“SOHR points out that the most of ISIS leaders and members entered areas controlled by ‘National Army’ and ‘Hayat Tahrir Al-Sham’ with the protection and complicity of leaders of the Turkish-backed ‘National Army.’ Some ISIS members and leaders entered those areas after paying huge sums of money to Turkish-backed commanders, while others entered under the protection of close leaders operating under the banner of the ‘National Army’ factions, mainly ‘Ahrar Al-Sharqiyyah’ and ‘Jaysh Al-Sharqiyyah’ which include a large number of former ISIS commanders and members in the eastern region of Syria and areas north of Aleppo.’
‘Clear as daylight’
“It has become as clear as daylight that Turkish forces-held areas in Idlib, northern and eastern countryside of Aleppo and areas in the countryside of Al-Hasakah and Al-Raqqa are the most prominent hotbeds of terrorist and extremist groups such as ISIS, Al-Qaeda, and other jihadist groups that are overtly or covertly affiliated with Al-Qaeda.
“Despite all attempts and efforts by local factions backed by Turkish forces, such as Hayat Tahrir Al-Sham in Idlib and the so-called ‘National Army’ which controls areas in the countryside of Aleppo, Al-Raqqa and Al-Hasakah within ‘Olive Branch,’ ‘Euphrates Shield’ and ‘Peace Spring’ areas, to refute the accusations of supporting terrorism and to show themselves as active contributors in countering terrorism, all developments on the ground confirm these accusations.”
Political US support for Turkish occupation in 2019
US official have only recently begun to express serious concerns that ‘ISIS stands to gain from potential Turkish offensive in Syria.’
US secretary of state Mike Pompeo had made a historical remark 9 October 2019, hours after Turkey launched a military campaign against Syrian Kurds who were fighting ISIS alongside US troops, saying, “The Turks have a legitimate security concern.”
Justifying the Turkish incursion into northern Syria, Pompeo claimed, “They have a terrorist threat to their south.”
He added that the US does not plan to defend its key partners in the fight against ISIS, the Kurdish-led Syrian Defense Forces (SDF).
* Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, founded in May 2006, is a United Kingdom-based information office whose stated aim is to document human rights abuses in Syria.