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Abu Muhammad al-Adnani, the official spokesman for the Islamic State (IS) group who gained notoriety for his frequent calls for jihad, has been killed in the northern Syrian province of Aleppo, the militant group’s media outlet announced Tuesday.
In a statement released on jihadist media sites, the IS group said Adnani was “martyred while surveying the operations to repel the military campaigns against Aleppo”. The message, however, provided no details on whether he was killed in an air strike or ground attack.
The Syria-based jihadist group has been suffering a string of defeats in recent weeks in Aleppo as well as the strategic regions around Jarablus near the Syria-Turkey border.
A senior figure in the IS group’s leadership ranks, Adnani was a familiar figure in jihadist media circles with his frequent calls for attacks on “the infidels”, including Western as well as Shiite Muslim targets.
On August 18, 2012, the US State Department put al-Adnani on the Special Designated Global Terrorist List with a $5 million reward for any information on the IS group militant.
While Adnani was widely known as the IS group’s official spokesperson, putting out a global call for attacks, many experts believe he was much more than a mere mouthpiece for the jihadist group.
“He is heavily involved in external operations. He is sort of the administrative ‘yea’ or ‘nay’ at the top of the pyramid,” Thomas Joscelyn, from the Washington DC-based Foundation for Defense of Democracies, told the New York Times earlier this month.
Adnani was also head of Emni, the jihadist group’s secret service, according to the New York Times.
Hours after the announcement, there was no official confirmation of Adnani’s death, though the Pentagon said he had been the target of US air strikes on Tuesday in the al-Bab region of northern Syria.
“We are still assessing the results of the strike, but Adnani’s removal from the battlefield would mark another significant blow to [the Islamic State group],” Pentagon spokesman Peter Cook said in a statement.
An Iraqi security analyst, however, told Reuters Adnani was wounded in an August 17 coalition strike near al-Rai, north of Aleppo city, and succumbed to his injuries on Monday.
From al Qaeda to the IS group
Details of the senior IS group leader’s life are sketchy. Born Taha Subhi Falaha in the western Syrian province of Idlib in 1977, Adnani joined the fight against US troops in Iraq shortly after the 2003 US-led invasion of Iraq, according to US officials.
During the Iraqi uprising against the US, Adnani pledged allegiance to Abu Musab al-Zarqawi — the brutal, Jordanian-born head of al Qaeda’s operations in Iraq — and was jailed for six years, according to US security experts.
Following his release, Adnani joined the uprising against Syrian President Bashar al-Assad.
He rose to prominence in 2014, following the June 9 shock fall of the northern Iraqi city of Mosul to the IS group in a stunning military advance.
Fiery orator and harbinger of hate
As propaganda head of the Syria-based group, Adnani put out statements claiming numerous IS group attacks, including the November 13 Paris attacks, which killed 130 people.
His lengthy statements and fiery sermons attracted foreign fighters and followers from across the world.
“If you can kill a disbelieving American or European – especially the spiteful and filthy French – or an Australian, or a Canadian, or any other disbeliever from the disbelievers waging war, including the citizens of the countries that joined a coalition against the Islamic State, then rely upon Allah, and kill him in any manner or way however it may be,” he said in 2014.
News of Adnani’s death spread on social media sites shortly after Amaq announced his death, with the hastag #Martydom_Sheikh_Andani” trending on Twitter.
His death is likely to be a huge blow to the jihadist group as it faces military onslaughts by a US-led coalition as well as a pro-Assad alliance of Russia, Iran and Shiite fighters linked to the Lebanese-based Hezbollah group.