ISIS ‘second in command’ killed by US raid in Syria, Sec. Carter says

The killing exposes weaknesses of the terrorist group as intelligence gathering by US and its coalition partners improves.

Mauel Balce Ceneta/AP
US Defense Secretary Ash Carter, accompanied by Joint Chiefs Chairman Gen. Joseph Dunford, speaks during a news conference at the Pentagon, Friday, March 25, 2016, where he announced US forces killed a senior Islamic State leader, among several key members of the militant group eliminated this week.

An Islamic State (IS) top official has been killed in yet another US raid, Defense Sec. Ashton B. Carter said Friday.

Abd al-Rahman Mustafa al-Qaduli, also known as Haji Imam – a former Iraqi physics teacher – was the finance minister who administered IS funding and other activities through its networks. The United States designated him as a global terrorist in 2014. US officials had placed a $7 million reward for any information regarding his whereabouts.

"We are systematically eliminating ISIL's cabinet," said Secretary Carter at a news conference, The New York Times reported.

Though he hailed the killing as an achievement for US efforts in defeating IS, he maintained that killing one top official isn’t enough.

"As you know leaders can be replaced. These leaders have been around for a long time – they are senior and experienced and eliminating them is an important objective and result. They will be replaced and we will continue to go after their leadership."

"It’s a sign of progress for the coalition forces," said Bruce Riedel, a senior fellow and director of the Brookings Intelligence Project, in an interview with The Christian Science Monitor. "Whether he is No. 2 or not, it is a setback for the extremist group," he says, referencing the claims that the killed militant was second in command in the IS leadership.

The defense secretary did not confirm whether Haji Iman was directly involved with the Brussels or Paris attacks, both of which Islamic State claimed responsibility for. But some analysts say that Brussels was an Islamic State reaction to the Western coalition efforts targeting IS leaders, reported The Washington Post.

But Mr. Riedel is hesitant about linking the two, saying that "we don’t have much information that links the attackers directly to the ISIS leadership." 

The killing is yet another blow to the IS leadership. Last week, the Pentagon confirmed that American strikes had killed the group’s minister of war, Omar al-Shishani, adding to a list of top IS officials that have been killed by the US since the coalition strikes started, NBC News reported.

"His death could add further momentum to a military campaign that, by all accounts, is steadily weakening the Islamic State as a military force in Iraq and Syria," Joby Warrick, Thomas Gibbons-Neff, and Greg Miller wrote in a Washington Post article. "The terrorist group suffered new setbacks this week as Syrian government troops entered the outskirts of the historic town of Palmyra after a weeks-old offensive aided by Russian airstrikes."

"The coalition is certainly improving its strategy," Riedel says, adding that the US and its coalition partners have augmented their intelligence collection.

The coalition has still a lot to do though IS has lost more than 40 percent of its territory, Riedel says. “But the death of the key leaders is likely to further expose the vulnerability of the extremist group." 

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