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Hardline Islamist faction HTS blocks access to IS leader Baghdadi 'death site' in Syria Open in fullscreen

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Hardline Islamist faction HTS blocks access to IS leader Baghdadi 'death site' in Syria

Excavators were seen at the site in Idlib [Getty/ Archive]

Date of publication: 27 October, 2019

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A hardline Islamist group in northwestern Syria has sealed access to an area where IS leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi is thought to have died.
The dominant Islamist militant group in northwest Syria on Sunday blocked access to the suspected site of a US-led operation against Islamic State group chief Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, an AFP correspondent reported.

Hayat Tahrir al-Sham, an organisation that includes former operatives from Al-Qaeda's Syria affiliate, sealed off the village of Barisha, near the Turkish border, following US media reports of the militant group leader's killing.

According to the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights - a UK- based war monitor - US helicopters airlifted troops to the village for a nighttime raid that led to clashes.

At least nine people were killed in the operation, which lasted about two hours. 

US President Donald Trump confirmed Baghdadi's death in a press conference on Sunday, saying the IS leader died "like a dog".

The president also confirmed speculation that the self-styled caliph had blown himself up in a bid to evade capture by US forces.

The president said no US forces were killed in the operation.

Excavators were at work on Sunday near the flattened remains of the house that appeared to have been the main target of the airborne operation.

The area is nominally under the control of HTS, which administers much of the Idlib enclave, one of the last major parts of Syria outside the control of President Bashar al-Assad's regime.

Ankara has some sway over HTS but has failed to rein it in despite deals Turkey has stuck with Russia, Damascus's main backer and the most powerful foreign broker in Syria.

Al-Qaeda and IS have long been rivals.

According to the Observatory and local sources, IS fighters - who have been operating underground since the group lost its last fixed positions in Syria earlier this year - were also present in the area.

Another organisation with a presence in the area is Hurras al-Deen, a hardline Islamist group linked to Al-Qaeda that has smaller numbers but seasoned fighters.

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