The Islamic State (ISIS/ISIL) has announced the death of its top-ranking Lt. Abu Muhammad al-Adnani, who was allegedly being groomed to succeed the group’s leader, Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, while he served as the jihadi organization’s chief propagandist and strategist for external terror operations.
Adnani has been identified as the highest-ranking Syrian inside the Islamic State. He was one of the world’s most-wanted terrorists. The State Department had placed a $5 million bounty on Adnani, who has been described as a founder of both the Islamic State and its former ally, the Nusra Front, which recently cut its ties to al-Qaeda, soon after it was described as the “largest” al-Qaeda affiliate “in history.”
Peter Cook, the Pentagon’s press secretary, confirmed that the senior Islamic State spokesman was targeted by the U.S.-led coalition in “a precision strike near Al Bab” in northern Syria’s Aleppo province, near the country’s border with Turkey.
However, Cook added that the United States is “still assessing the results of the strike.”
The New York Times (NYT) reports:
Two American officials, speaking on condition of anonymity to discuss intelligence, said a United States military drone had hit a vehicle Mr. Adnani was thought to be traveling in, following a close collaboration between the Central Intelligence Agency and Special Operations forces to track him.
“In isolation, Adnani’s death represents the demise of an important strategic and operational leader of the Islamic State — though only one person,” Seth G. Jones, a terrorism specialist at the RAND Corporation, told the Times. “Adnani is likely replaceable, and the Islamic State will replace him as they have with other operatives that have been killed.”
“When calling for lone wolf attacks in [the] West, ISIS fighters/supporters quote Adnani more than any other individual,” wrote Rita Katz, a terrorism analyst and the director of the SITE Intelligence Group, on Twitter. SITE tracks jihadi activity online.
On Tuesday, the Amaq news agency, an arm of the Islamic State, released a statement declaring the death of Adnani, who was responsible for coordinating attacks against the West and disseminating propaganda statements on behalf of the terrorist group.
Following Amaq’s statement, the Islamic State officially acknowledged the death of its top spokesman in a statement of its own distributed through its online channels.
The Pentagon spokesman described Adnani as “one of ISIL’s most senior leaders,” later adding:
Al-Adnani’s removal from the battlefield would mark another significant blow to ISIL. Al-Adnani has served as principal architect of ISIL’s external operations and as ISIL’s chief spokesman. He has coordinated the movement of ISIL fighters, directly encouraged lone-wolf attacks on civilians and members of the military and actively recruited new ISIL members.
Some analysts believe Adnani was being prepared to be a potential successor to Baghdadi if the Islamic State leader were to be killed.
A founding member of the Islamic State, Mr. Adnani, a 39-year-old Syrian, was the group’s chief spokesman and propagandist, running an operation that put out slickly produced videos of beheadings and massacres that shocked the world and sent a rush of recruits running to join the group in Syria.
Accounts from arrested members of the Islamic State confirmed Mr. Adnani’s role as an operational leader as well. He oversaw the group’s external operations division, responsible for recruiting operatives around the world and instigating or organizing them to carry out attacks that have included Paris, Brussels and Dhaka, Bangladesh.
The Islamic State’s external operations division was primarily focused on planning attacks against the West.
NYT points out:
Intelligence officials in the United States and Europe, as well as arrested members of the group, say that the Islamic State’s external operations unit is a distinct body inside the group, with its command-and-control structure answering to Mr. Adnani, who in turn reports only to Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, the self-proclaimed caliph of the Islamic State. Mr. Adnani was being groomed to succeed Mr. Baghdadi, analysts said.
The Islamic State regularly carries out attacks on civilians and security forces in Iraq and Syria, where it still holds territory. But Mr. Adnani’s unit has focused on attacks abroad. It identifies recruits, provides training, hands out cash and arranges for the delivery of weapons.
Adnani was one of the original founders of al-Qaeda in Iraq, the precursor to the Islamic State.