The Islamic State group’s second in command, Syrian-born Abu Muhammad al-Adnani, was killed while monitoring military operations in the Syrian province of Aleppo, the group announced Tuesday.
Quoting a “military source,” the IS news agency Amaq said “Sheikh Abu Mohamed al-Adnani, the spokesman of the Islamic State, was martyred while surveying operations to repel the military campaigns against Aleppo.”
The agency said Adnani died after a “long voyage crowned by sacrifice” and vowed “revenge” at the hands of a “new generation born unto the Islamic State.” It did not provide any further details on when or how he died.
A US defense official said a short time later that coalition forces conducted an air strike Tuesday in Syria targeting a “senior leader” from the Islamic State group.
“Coalition forces conducted an air strike in Al-Bab, Syria, targeting a senior [IS] leader,” the official said, speaking on condition of anonymity. “We are still assessing the results of the operation at this time.”
Al-Bab is in Aleppo, a province that is the current focal point of the Syrian civil war, and where IS, Syrian Kurdish forces, Turkey-backed rebels and President Bashar Assad’s forces are vying for control. The province is frequently struck by US-led coalition airstrikes as well as Russian air raids.
Born Taha Subhi Falaha in the northern province of Idlib in the late 1970s, Adnani was one of the first foreign fighters to battle against coalition forces in Iraq, according to the State Department. He crossed the border into Iraq and joined al-Qaeda, a precursor to IS, after the 2003 US-led invasion.
In late June 2014, he formally declared the establishment of a caliphate, or Islamic state, stretching across parts of Syria and Iraq, under the leadership of Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, and demanded allegiance from Muslims worldwide.
A powerful orator, he went on to become the voice of IS. He released numerous, lengthy audio files online in which he delivered fiery sermons urging followers to kill civilians in nations that supported the US-led coalition against the group.
“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,” Adnani said in 2014.
In other speeches he referred to US President Barack Obama as “an idiot” and Secretary of State John Kerry as an “uncircumcised old geezer.” In May 2015, the US State Department announced a reward of up to $5 million for information that could lead to Adnani’s capture.
Earlier this year, Adnani called for massive attacks during Ramadan — a call that translated into the bloodiest Muslim holy month in recent memory. Followers of IS carried out attacks on several continents, including the Orlando shooting, the Nice truck attack in France and a massive suicide bombing in downtown Baghdad.
Adnani also disparaged Saudi Arabia and its influential clerics for failing to rally behind the rebels that the monarchy supports in Syria like they did decades ago in Afghanistan.
Amaq vowed revenge against the “filthy cowards in the sect of disbelief.” It said a generation raised in IS-held territory would avenge Adnani’s death.
The Islamic State group has suffered a string of defeats in recent weeks, including in Aleppo province, where Turkish troops and allied Syrian rebels drove IS out of the border town of Jarablus last week.
In Iraq, the group has lost its strongholds in Fallujah and Ramadi, in the western Anbar province. It still controls Mosul, but Iraqi forces are gearing up for a long-awaited operation to retake the country’s second largest city.
It has also lost some of its most senior commanders and founding members over the past year, including its “minister of war” Omar al-Shishani, feared Iraqi militant Shaker Wuhayeb, also known as Abu Wahib, as well as a top finance official known by several names, including Abu Ali Al-Anbari.