Senior deputy to ISIS leader dies in US air strike in Iraq

EDGARTOWN (Massachusetts) • The second-in-command of the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS) militant group was killed during a United States air strike in Iraq last Tuesday, dealing a blow to the group that has sought to form a caliphate in the Middle East.

"Fadhil Ahmad al-Hayali, also known as Hajji Mutazz... was killed in a US military air strike on Aug 18 while travelling in a vehicle near Mosul, Iraq, with an ISIL media operative known as Abu Abdullah," White House spokesman Ned Price said in a statement on Friday, using another name for ISIS.

The Obama administration said al-Hayali was a member of ISIS' shura council, or Cabinet, and was the senior deputy to the group's leader, Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi.

He was a primary coordinator for moving large amounts of explosives, weapons, vehicles and people between Iraq and Syria, the administration said, and he supported ISIS operations in both countries.

Coalition officials said that on Aug 3 last year, al-Hayali led an offensive on Sinjar mountain in northern Iraq, the traditional home of the Yazidi religious minority. He also helped plan the group's successful offensive in Mosul in June, according to a Defence Department official. The US and its coalition partners have, for months, been conducting air strikes on ISIS targets in Iraq and Syria.

Fadhil Ahmad al-Hayali led an offensive on Sinjar mountain in northern Iraq, the traditional home of the Yazidi religious minority. He also helped plan the group's successful offensive in Mosul in June.

In Iraq, where ISIS has taken control of a number of cities and towns such as Mosul and Ramadi, US war planes have targeted senior leaders as part of what the White House calls its effort to "degrade and destroy" the militant group.

Since the air strikes began last year, the US has killed several of al-Baghdadi's deputies, including the militant group's conduit for outreach to extremists in North Africa and a middle-level ISIS leader who Pentagon officials described as the group's "emir of oil and gas".

After most of the targeted killings, however, the operatives have been replaced fairly quickly, and Pentagon officials acknowledged that that would probably be the case again.

"My experience in looking at the Islamic State suggests they have demonstrated an ability to move people up into positions" when high-ranking operatives are killed, said Mr Seth Jones, a former Pentagon official who is now at the Rand Corporation.

He said how much territory ISIS controls was more important in determining the group's power.

"The key issue is territorial control," he said.

Meanwhile, more evidence has emerged that ISIS has engaged in chemical warfare. Fragments from mortars fired at Kurdish fighters in northern Iraq earlier this month tested positive in a US military field analysis for sulphur mustard, a chemical weapons agent, according to a US general.

He said sulphur mustard is a Class 1 chemical agent, which means it has few uses outside chemical warfare. Marine Corps Brigadier-General Kevin Killea, chief of staff for operations against the group, said the fragments would be further tested to confirm the finding.

NEW YORK TIMES, REUTERS

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Sunday Times on August 23, 2015, with the headline 'Senior deputy to ISIS leader dies in US air strike in Iraq'. Print Edition | Subscribe