Following a Tuesday confirmation of the death of Mohammad al-Adnani, Russia’s defense ministry took credit for the killing of the prominent ISIS leader. American defense officials, however, have rejected the Russian claim of responsibility.
Adnani’s death was first confirmed in a public statement by the Islamic State itself, in which the group referred to him as a “martyr.” Adnani had been one of the inner circle of Islamic State leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, as well as a senior leader in his own right. Adnani constituted an important part of the group’s propaganda and communications machine, widely known for spreading pro-Islamic State messages and selective information both inside and outside of the self-declared caliphate centered in western Syria. As the director of ISIS communications, al-Adnani was both the first person to announce the existence of the caliphate after large territorial gains in Iraq and Syria and a key part of the group’s recruitment division. Adnani is believed to have played a critical role in both recruiting new fighters to venture to Syria and inspiring lone-wolf attacks on the group’s behalf in western nations. In this capacity, al-Adnani had been the target of a $5 million reward offered by the US State Department.
According to the public statement issued by the Islamic State, al-Adnani was killed while inspecting installations in the Syrian city of Aleppo, a contested urban center in the country’s northeast that has been among many areas of intense fighting during the Syrian Civil War. That official statement, however, did not specify a cause of death, instead stating only that Adnani had been killed and that the group would seek revenge for his death. On Wednesday, however, the Russian Defense Ministry announced through a posting on its Facebook page that al-Adnani, along with as many as 40 other militants, had been killed in an air strike carried out by an SU34 fighter jet. That posting read in part as follows: “Among those terrorists, according to the information confirmed through several intelligence channels, there was the military leader Abu Mohammad al-Adnani known as the Spokesperson of the international terrorist organization the ‘Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant.'” Such air strikes occur frequently in Syria, where Russian forces have been attacking enemies of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, including Islamic State, for nearly a year.
Although the Russian announcement seemed to explain the death of al-Adnani as confirmed the day before by the Islamic State itself, US defense officials have been dismissive of the claim that a Russian fighter jet was responsible for the kill. “We conducted a strike that targeted al-Adnani. We are assessing the results of that strike,” said one unnamed defense official, implying that the confirmation of al-Adnani’s death was not yet formal, but that he had been targeted by US attacks. Peter Cook, spokesman for the Pentagon, further elaborated on that point in a Wednesday statement in which he pointed out that the results of the US airstrike were not yet established. Mr. Cook went on to say that “we have no information to support Russia’s claim that they also carried out a strike against Adnani.”
Since that statement was made, the Russian Defense Ministry has not offered any reply with regards to the subject of which nation’s attack actually killed Mohammad al-Adnani. The United States has also yet to release the final evaluation of its airstrike, leaving a US confirmation of Adnani’s death on hold while a standard intelligence-gathering process is undertaken.
By Alex Beltyukov [CC BY-SA 3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0), CC BY-SA 3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0) or GFDL 1.2 (http://www.gnu.org/licenses/old-licenses/fdl-1.2.html)], via Wikimedia Commons
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