Prominent Iraqi jihadist killed by suicide bomber

Hayat Tahrir al-Sham
Members of Hayat Tahrir al-Sham parade through the rebel-held northwestern city of Idlib

A prominent Iraqi jihadist leader was reportedly killed by a suicide bomber on Thursday in rebel-held northwest Syria.

Abu Maria al Qahtani, whose real name is Maysr al Jabouri, died after being rushed to hospital with wounds from the blast at his guest house.

Four others were believed to be injured in the suicide bombing in the town of Syria, according to the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights war monitor.

Qahtani was one of the most prominent commanders of Hayat Tahrir al-Sham – considered by the UK as a foreign terrorist group – and its predecessor al-Nusra Front, which itself was a former al-Qaeda affiliate.

No group so far has claimed responsibility for killing Qahtani. HTS has, however, confirmed Qahtani’s death in social media posts, and accused Isis, a rival terror group, of the killing.

Qahtani was released from prison last month, having spent half a year in jail on charges of “improper communications,” after falling out with other HTS leadership.

Fighting force of 15,000 militants

He was born in Iraq and previously fought against US forces after the US-led invasion in the early 2000s. In 2011, he moved to Syria to join insurgents fighting against Bashar al-Assad, the Syrian President.

HTS is one of the few remaining rebel groups in Syria that oppose Assad’s regime and has recently engaged in lashes in an attempt to cement dominance in this last rebel-held pocket.

In October 2018, HTS was estimated to have a fighting force of as many as 15,000 militants as of October, according to the Center for Strategic and International Studies, a US think tank.

HTS was designated by the US as a foreign terrorist organisation in 2018, adding to al Nusra Front’s existing designation from 2012.

The UK considers HTS, Al-Nusra Front and other Al-Qaeda offshoots as terrorist organisations.