- The Washington Times - Tuesday, August 30, 2016

The public face of Islamic State’s worldwide propaganda campaign and the commander responsible for the organization’s attacks against Europe and elsewhere has been killed, the terror group announced Tuesday.

Abu Muhammad al-Adnani, a founding members of the brutal jihadi movement, was killed in northern Syria’s Aleppo province, according to a tweet sent out by the Amaq Agency, the group’s online propaganda operation.

The Islamic State message only acknowledged that Adnani was killed “while surveying the operations to repel military campaigns” in the northern Syrian province.

Pentagon Press Secretary Peter Cook confirmed in a statement issued Tuesday that Adnani was the target of a U.S. airstrike near al-Bab in Aleppo, though the Defense Department declined to confirm Adnani’s death, saying U.S. officials were still assessing the results of the strike.

A senior Syrian rebel official told Reuters news agency that Adnani was most probably killed in the strike, and he was in the Aleppo region on a mission to raise morale for hard-pressed Islamic State fighters.

As the top spokesman for Islamic State, also known as ISIS or ISIL, Adnani was responsible for crafting the message of Islamic State’s so-called caliphate, distributing slickly produced, highly violent propaganda videos reinforcing the group’s global image across the Middle East and elsewhere.

It was Adnani’s call to arms during the Muslim holy month of Ramadan this year that was credited with prompting a wave of several devastating terrorist attacks last month, spanning from Bangladesh to Istanbul and culminating in a savage suicide attack in the Karrada neighborhood in the Iraqi capital that left over 200 dead.

As head of the group’s online and social media operations, Adnani played a critical role in recruitment of jihadis to the Islamic State banner, as well as inspiring the group’s sympathizers to carry out “lone wolf” attacks against civilian targets in Europe and United States.

Likely drawing inspiration from Adnani’s propaganda campaign, Lahouaiyej Bouhlel, a troubled 31-year-old Tunisian, mowed down a crowd of tourists along a bustling seaside boulevard in the French resort town of Nice in July, killing 84.

As Islamic State’s head of external operations, Adnani helped coordinate the group’s terror cells in France and Belgium, responsible for spectacularly violent strikes against civilians in both Western European countries.

Terror analysts also say Adnani likely played a planning role in coordinating the infamous Charlie Hebdo and Bataclan attacks in Paris last year, as well as a dual suicide bombing attacks in Brussels in March, targeting the city’s airport and train station.

The death comes at a delicate time for the U.S.-led military coalition fighting Islamic State, which has seen infighting among the allies even as the coalition has scored striking gains on the ground against Islamic State strongholds in Iraq, Syria and Libya in recent months.

On Monday Washington publicly urged Ankara to halt its ground operations in Aleppo province since Turkish troops have begun to turn their guns on American-backed Kurdish militias battling Islamic State in the province.

Turkish forces advanced on the Islamic State-held Syrian city of Jarablus last Wednesday, marking the first time Turkish forces have crossed into neighboring Syria to strike against Islamic State-held territory along the country’s border since Islamic State’s blistering campaign throughout the region two years earlier.

Focusing the attack

On Tuesday Central Command chief Gen. Joseph Votel told reporters in Washington that U.S. officials were trying to maintain support for Turkey’s anti-Islamic State efforts, while protecting its own interests on the ground in Syria.

“I think they saw an opportunity [and] they moved quickly on that,” Gen. Votel told reporters at the Pentagon regarding Ankara’s advance into Syria. “When they began to focus on something other than ISIL, then I think we had to withdraw our support.”

“I think we are now trying to keep those elements separated and focused on the counter-ISIL fight at this point,” he added.

Earlier this year, American commanders responsible for U.S. military trainers on the ground in Syria rebuffed an offer by Turkey to conduct joint operations to retake the strategically critical northern Syrian district of Manbij from Islamic State.

Turkey offered to provide troops and artillery support to Syrian militias and their U.S. special operations advisers to retake Manbij, seen as the main artery for weapons and equipment coming from Turkey bound for the Islamic State’s de facto capital of Raqqa.

But American advisers shunned Ankara’s offer since it required breaking ties with Kurdish members of the People’s Protection Units, also known as YPG, the armed faction of the Kurdish Workers Party — a group deemed by Ankara to be on par with the Islamic State and other terrorist organizations.

Adnani, who was placed on the State Department’s terror list in 2014, was widely considered the Islamic State leader most likely to replace the group’s emir, Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, at the time of his death.

A Syrian by birth from the region southwest of Aleppo, Adnani came from a well-off family but was one of the first foreign fighters to travel to neighboring Iraq to fight the U.S.-led invasion in 2003 that ousted Saddam Hussein. He was reportedly jailed for a time in a U.S. military prison, but returned home in 2011 just as the Syrian civil war was heating up.

Hisham al-Hashimi, a security analyst who advises the Iraqi government on Islamic State, told Reuters that Adnani was injured in a coalition strike on Aug. 17 near al-Rai, north of Aleppo, and died from his wounds on Monday.

His death comes roughly three months after an American airstrike in May took out the so-called “emir” heading Islamic State operations in Iraq’s volatile Anbar province, as well as a number of the group’s top commanders.

Shaker Wahib al-Fahdawi al-Dulaimi, also known as Abu Waheeb, was traveling in the Iraqi city of Rutba when his convoy was struck by American aircraft, Defense Department officials said at the time.

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