Conflicting reports from U.S. officials and terrorist leaders suggest a top commander of the militant Islamic State group might have been killed in a U.S. airstrike near the embattled Syrian town of Aleppo.
The Pentagon said in a release late yesterday that a precision airstrike had targeted a vehicle that officials say Abu Muhammad al-Adnani was riding in. Al-Adnani was believed to be the ISIS group's top spokesman and a key player in inspiring so-called "lone wolf" attacks on Western targets, including the shooting rampages in Paris, France, and Orlando, Florida.
Al-Adnani was believed to be the number two commander for the Islamic State group and was a key recruiter and operational planner for the terrorist organization. (Photo: France 24 YouTube)
"Al-Adnani has served as principal architect of ISIL's external operations and as ISIL's chief spokesman," Pentagon spokesman Peter Cook said in a statement. "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."
While the American military was uncertain whether Al-Adnani had been killed in the strike on Al Bab, near Aleppo, the Islamic State confirmed his death in a statement.
Analysts say the result, if confirmed, is an effective blow against the terrorist group, which has seen its hold on territory in both Iraq and Syria wither under U.S., coalition and Russian air and ground assaults in recent weeks.
"He was an important Islamic State leader and one of the top remaining leaders of the old guard," said terrorism analyst and founder of The Long War Journal Bill Roggio. "It's definitely a good kill."
But while ISIS has now lost three of its top leaders in one year, the death of al-Adnani could have the unintended consequence of bringing rival terrorist groups together. For years, Roggio says, al-Adnani has been at odds with al Qaeda — eventually causing a very public split and disavowal from Osama bin Laden's successor, Aymen al Zawahiri.
With al-Adnani gone and only one of the Islamic State's founding leaders left on the battlefield, the group behind the 9/11 attacks could rise as ISIS falls.
"In it's way, al-Adnani's death could pave the way for a rapprochement with al Qaeda," Roggio said. "It could have implications that could bolster other jihadist movements."
Al-Adnani may have been an important leader and a key victory in the war against ISIS, but that doesn't mean the U.S. military is planning to stop going after them anytime soon.
"The U.S. military will continue to prioritize and relentlessly target ISIL leaders and external plotters in order to defend our homeland, our allies, and our partners, while we continue to gather momentum in destroying ISIL's parent tumor in Iraq and Syria and combat its metastases around the world," Pentagon spokesman Cook said.