U.S.: Russia’s Claim of Airstrike Killing Top Islamic State Spokesman Is ‘a Joke’

Abu Muhammad al-Adnani

Russia’s Ministry of Defense claims Islamic State spokesman Mohammad al-Adnani’s death with an airstrike in the Aleppo province of Syria, a claim disputed by U.S. officials.

Russia claimed its Aleppo bombing run killed as many as 40 ISIS militants, according to CNN.

The Islamic State confirmed that Adnani was among the dead on Tuesday evening, through its news service Amaq, which said he was killed while “surveying operations to repel the military campaigns against Aleppo.”

ISIS vowed to seek revenge for “the Syrian gallant knight,” who has “joined the convoy of martyr leaders.”

“To the filthy and coward nonbelievers and to the holders of the Christ emblem, we bring the good news, which will keep them awake, that a new generation in the Islamic State… that loves death more than life… this generation will only grow steadfast on the path to Jihad, stay determined to seek revenge and be violent toward them,” said the ISIS statement, as reported by CNN.

There is general agreement that Adnani’s death is a “significant blow” to ISIS, as Pentagon Press Secretary Peter Cook put it.

“Adnani, whose real name was Taha Sobhi Falaha, served as the group’s most important figure behind self-proclaimed caliph Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, acting as its chief propagandist and orchestrator of external operations – specifically, attack plans outside of ISIS territory in Iraq and Syria,” Newsweek reports. “The operation that Adnani oversaw included different arms of foreign fighters who plotted atrocities in Europe, Asia and the Arab world. This internal secret service is now known as the Emni and may have had involvement in a series of attacks abroad, including the Paris attacks, the Brussels bombings and the Istanbul airport attack, which left hundreds dead.”

“Al-Adnani has served as principal architect of ISIS’ external operations and as ISIS’ chief spokesman. He has coordinated the movement of ISIS fighters, directly encouraged lone-wolf attacks on civilians and members of the military and actively recruited new ISIS members,” Cook said during his Pentagon press briefing.

It was Adnani who first declared the establishment of the Islamic State’s “caliphate,” not the caliph, Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi. As Newsweek and the Pentagon pointed out, Adnani had a more direct connection with ISIS operations overseas than Baghdadi.

What does seem hotly disputed is the manner of Adnani’s death. The U.S. government was remarkably blunt, even mocking, in dismissing Russia’s claims of responsibility, arguing that an American drone carried out the attack that liquidated the ISIS spokesman.

“It would be laughable but for the very real humanitarian suffering Russia has inflicted,” CNN quotes a U.S. defense official saying. “We stand by the statement we made yesterday. We conducted a strike that targeted al-Adnani. We are assessing the results of that strike.”

“Russia’s claim is a joke,” another anonymous Defense Department source told Reuters.

International Business Times clarifies that the American strike involved a Predator drone launching a Hellfire missile at a vehicle believed to contain Adnani.

The BBC notes that ISIS’s announcement of Adnani’s death “came unusually quickly,” as “it is not customary for ISIS to acknowledge the killing of its top figures immediately.” Instead, the Islamic State prefers belated and indirect acknowledgements, such as “naming a military campaign after the deceased leader.”