US drone strike kills leader of Islamic State in Syria

Maher al-Agal targeted while riding motorcycle near Turkish border, another official seriously injured; Pentagon says no civilian casualties

Illustrative photo of a member of the US-backed Syrian Democratic Forces removing an Islamic State flag in the town of Tabqa in Syria. (AFP Photo/Delil Souleiman)
Illustrative photo of a member of the US-backed Syrian Democratic Forces removing an Islamic State flag in the town of Tabqa in Syria. (AFP Photo/Delil Souleiman)

The US confirmed on Tuesday that it had killed a leader of the Islamic State terrorist group in Syria in a drone strike.

US Central Command said in a news release that Maher al-Agal was killed Tuesday and an unidentified senior official in Islamic State was seriously injured.

The Pentagon said there were no civilian casualties, though it wasn’t possible to immediately confirm that information.

The US carried out the strike outside Jindaris, a town in northwest Syria close to the Turkish border.

Al-Agal was killed while riding a motorcycle, Pentagon Central Command spokesman Lieutenant Colonel Dave Eastburn told AFP.

The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights confirmed that al-Agal was killed in a drone strike.

The Syrian Civil Defense Force said one person was killed and another injured in a strike that targeted a motorcycle outside Aleppo, but did not identify the victims. There was little information available about al-Agal, whom the Observatory called the Islamic State governor for the Levant.

Defense Minister Benny Gantz welcomed the US announcement of the assassination.

“Terrorism is a disease that must be fought all the time, continuously, and with great intensity. So do we against Iran, Hezbollah, and Hamas, and so do our American friends, who last night eliminated one of IS’s senior figures in Syria,” Gantz said at a memorial service for the fallen soldiers of the 2006 Lebanon War.

Gantz added that the US has “repeatedly demonstrated that its presence and influence are vital to the stability of the Middle East.”

Islamic State at the height of its power controlled more than 40,000 square miles stretching from Syria to Iraq and ruled over 8 million people. While the group’s territorial state collapsed in 2019, its leaders have turned to guerrilla tactics and been able to “efficiently restructure themselves organizationally,” according to the Washington-based Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, a nonpartisan think tank.

On Monday, The Washington Post reported that in 2014 Islamic State was planning chemical and biological attacks on targets in Europe, led by engineer Salih al-Sabawi. Less than a year later, Sabawi was killed in a targeted US airstrike near Mosul University.

The strike on al-Agal comes months after the previous leader of the group, Abu Ibrahim al-Hashimi al-Qurayshi, killed himself during a raid of his hideout by American special forces. The US said Al-Qurayshi blew himself up along with members of his family.

Last month, US-led coalition forces captured a senior Islamic State leader in a military operation in northern Syria. The coalition described him as one of the top leaders of the terror group’s branch in Syria.

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