Top Islamic State (IS) group strategist Abu Mohamed al-Adnani has been killed in Syria, robbing the jihadists of their propaganda chief and a key architect of attacks in the West.
The US said coalition forces had targeted Adnani, who had a $5-million (R73-million) bounty on his head, in an air strike in Aleppo province on Tuesday.
Russia later claimed Adnani was killed in a strike it carried out – the first time it has claimed the death of a high-ranking IS leader.
His death will be a major blow to IS, which has suffered a series of setbacks this year, including territorial losses in Syria and Iraq, and the killing of other leaders.
Adnani, a Syrian born in 1977, was one of IS’s most recognised leaders, at the heart of a sophisticated propaganda and recruitment machine that produced slick videos and sustained a huge social media presence.
He was reported to be involved in organising a series of high-profile IS attacks abroad that killed hundreds, including in Paris, Brussels and Istanbul.
Washington has vowed to “systematically eliminate” senior IS leaders and has put a $10-million (R146-million) bounty on the group’s elusive leader, Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi.
Both IS’s second-in-command, Abd ar-Rahman Mustafa al-Qaduli, and its top military commander, Omar al-Shishani, have been killed in US strikes since March.
“Adnani’s killing is a signal that IS can no longer protect its most senior leaders,” jihadist expert Hisham al-Hashimi said.
He said it was clear that US intelligence had infiltrated top levels of IS and was increasingly aware of the movements of senior figures.
The IS-affiliated Amaq news agency announced Adnani’s death late on Tuesday, saying he “was martyred while surveying operations to repel the military campaigns against Aleppo”.
In Washington, Pentagon spokesman Peter Cook said US-led coalition forces had conducted a precision strike targeting Adnani near the IS-held town of Al-Bab in Syria’s northern Aleppo province.
“Adnani’s removal from the battlefield would mark another significant blow to ISIL,” he said, using an alternative name for the group.