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US assassinates ISIS leader

The US killed Maher al-Agal, leader of the Islamic State (IS, formerly ISIS) terrorist group in Syria, in a drone strike on Tuesday. Al-Agal was one of the group’s top four leaders, and the strike also targeted one of his deputies, officials say.

Al-Agal’s death was announced on Tuesday by  the Pentagon’s Central Command (CENTCOM), the military command covering the Middle East. CENTCOM said that the strike took place outside Jindayris in northwest Syria, an area currently under the control of Turkish-backed forces.

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A deputy of al-Agal was also targeted in the strike, and was seriously injured, according to a CENTCOM statement.

“The removal of these ISIS leaders will disrupt the terrorist organization’s ability to further plot and carry out attacks,” CENTCOM spokesman Col. Joe Buccino said. “ISIS continues to represent a threat to the US and partners in the region.”

The US has carried out a number of strikes and raids on senior IS personnel in northwestern Syria in recent months. An alleged top leader of the group was detained by US forces in a raid last month, while overall IS commander Abu Ibrahim al-Hashimi al-Qurashi killed himself with a suicide vest during a raid by US special forces in the area in February.

A spokesman for the so-called Syrian Democratic Forces – a US backed faction in Syria’s multi-sided civil war – claimed on Tuesday that “hundreds” of IS fighters are still hiding out in Turkish-controlled areas of northern Syria.

While small groups of IS militants remain active in Syria, the group’s power and influence has been all but destroyed in recent years. While IS once commanded vast swathes of territory in Iraq, Syria and North Africa, a military campaign by the Syrian government and Russia, as well as an air campaign by the US and its allies, successfully crushed the jihadist organization from 2015 onwards.

The strike on al-Agal comes one day before US President Joe Biden is set to visit the Middle East, touching down in Israel on Wednesday before traveling to Saudi Arabia. Whilst in Saudi Arabia, Biden will attend a meeting of the Gulf Cooperation Council, which includes Bahrain, Kuwait, Oman, Qatar and the United Arab Emirates. Delegations from Egypt, Iraq and Jordan will also attend the meeting.

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