BEIRUT (AP) — The Islamic State group's spokesman and chief strategist, who laid out the blueprint for the extremist group's attacks against the West, has been killed while overseeing operations in northern Syria, the group announced Tuesday.
The IS-run Aamaq news agency said Abu Muhammed al-Adnani was "martyred while surveying the operations to repel the military campaigns in Aleppo," and vowed to avenge his death. It did not provide any further details on when or how he died.
If confirmed, it would be a major blow to the extremist group, which has been on the retreat in Syria and Iraq, where the borders of its self-declared Islamic caliphate have been steadily eroded in recent months.
Al-Adnani, whose real name is Taha Sobhi Falaha, persistently called for attacks against the West, which paid off in bloody notoriety with the Nov. 13 coordinated attacks in Paris that hit a concert hall, a stadium and restaurants and bars, leaving 130 people dead and hundreds wounded.
Al-Adnani is a Syrian who was born in the northern province of Idlib and is believed to be in his late 30s. He crossed the border and joined al-Qaida in Iraq, a precursor to IS, after the 2003 U.S.-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 U.S.-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," al-Adnani said in 2014.
In other speeches he referred to U.S. President Barack Obama as "an idiot" and Secretary of State John Kerry as an "uncircumcised old geezer."
Earlier this year, he 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.
Al-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.
In Washington, a U.S. defense official said in response to reports of al-Adnani's death that a U.S. airstrike on Tuesday targeted "an ISIL senior leader" in the Syrian city of al-Bab, which is northeast of Aleppo. But the official did not say whether the target was al-Adnani. He said the U.S. was still assessing the results of the airstrike. The official spoke on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to discuss the airstrikes by name.
Aleppo is a current focal point of the civil war in Syria, where IS, Syrian Kurdish forces, Turkey-backed rebels and President Bashar Assad's forces are vying for control. The province is frequently struck by U.S.-led coalition airstrikes as well as Russian air raids.
Aamaq vowed revenge against the "filthy cowards in the sect of disbelief." It said a generation raised in IS-held territory would avenge al-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.