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Russia claims it killed Islamic State propaganda chief

Abu Muhammad al-Adnani, who also played a lead role in co-ordinating international attacks, was declared killed by IS on Tuesday
A screengrab of an IS video from 2012 shows Abu Muhammad al-Adnani (AFP)

Russia said on Tuesday that it was behind the killing of Abu Muhammad al-Adnani, an IS propaganda chief widely considered the group's second-in-command.

In a statement published on its Facebook page, the Russian defence ministry said on Wednesday that its forces had launched a strike that killed Adnani in the Aleppo province of northern Syria the previous day.

"On 30 August 2016 a strike by a Russian Su-34 bomber destroyed a large cluster of up to 40 militants" in the mainly Kurdish village of Maarat Umm Hawsh, the statement said.

"Among the terrorists confirmed liquidated through multiple channels was field commander Abu Muhammad al-Adnani."

A US official told the Reuters agency that the statement was a "joke". US officials had previously claimed that a strike by their forces in Aleppo killed the senior IS leader.

A message on Tuesday evening by IS's propaganda arm, Amaq, claimed Adnani had been killed while "surveying operations" in Aleppo, but did not specify when, how or exactly where.

A source in the northern Syrian city told local news site Aleppo 24 that Adnani was likely one of those killed when US-led, anti-IS coalition forces targeted a car carrying alleged IS operatives close to the small town of al-Bab, north-east of Aleppo city. 

The US claimed on Tuesday to have targeted Adnani in a raid on Aleppo province, and said it was still assessing the results of the strike. 

"We are still assessing the results of the operation at this time," Pentagon spokesperson Peter Cook said on Tuesday.

Adnani, who had a $5 million US bounty on his head, was originally from the western Syrian province of Idlib and joined the militant movement in Iraq, where he served under late al-Qaeda leader Abu Musab al-Zarqawi.

Recent advances by US and Turkey-backed Kurdish and Arab militias have made inroads into Islamic State territory in Aleppo province, cutting them off from the Turkish border and supply lines along it.

Iraq said in January that Adnani had been wounded in an air strike in the western province of Anbar and was then moved to the northern city of Mosul, Islamic State’s capital in Iraq.

Adnani was a Syrian from Idlib, southwest of Aleppo, who pledged allegiance to Islamic State's predecessor al-Qaeda more than a decade ago. He was also once imprisoned by US forces in Iraq, according to the Brookings Institution.

He has been the chief propagandist for the group since he declared in a June 2014 statement that it was establishing a modern-day caliphate spanning large swathes of territory it had seized in Iraq and neighbouring Syria.

Adnani has often been the face of the group, such as when he issued a message in May urging attacks on the United States and Europe during the holy month of Ramadan.

A former IS operative from Germany, currently in prison on terrorism charges, told the New York Times earlier this month how Adnani had co-ordinated monthly meetings to select propaganda material to promote the group's battlefield advances, as well as masterminding international attacks.

"The big man behind everything is Abu Muhammad al-Adnani," the former IS member, Harry Sarfo, told the US daily.

This article is available in French on Middle East Eye French edition.

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