An airstrike has reportedly killed the Islamic State's second-in-command, Abu Alaa al-Afri, in Iraq, according to the Iraqi Ministry of Defense.
The senior militant had allegedly taken over operations after the group's leader, Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, was taken out of action after being seriously wounded himself by an airstrike in March.
Iraqi ministry of defense spokesman Brig-Gen Tahsin Ibrahim said Afri, also known as Abdul Rahman Mustafa Mohammed and multiple other aliases, was killed along with dozens of other militants today when US-led coalition warplanes targeted a mosque in the northwestern Iraqi city of Tal Afar, according to the BBC.
US Central Command issued a statement Wednesday saying it could not confirm that Afri was killed, and denied claims that a coalition airstrike hit a mosque Wednesday, as reported.
Little is known about Afri, but Iraqi government advisor Hisham al-Hashimi previously told Newsweek that the Islamic State deputy, a former physics teacher, was well-known by militants in the self-proclaimed caliphate, and had assumed control of the group since al-Baghdadi became incapacitated.
"After Baghdadi's wounding, he [Afri] has begun to head-up Daesh [arabic term for ISIS] with the help of officials responsible for other portfolios," Hashimi said. "He will be the leader of Daesh if Baghdadi dies."
Hashimi said Afri was a "good public speaker" with "strong charisma," and that he had joined al Qaeda after traveling to Afghanistan in 1989, eventually assuming a senior position within the group.
The alleged airstrike that allegedly seriously wounded Baghdadi occurred when a missile hit an Islamic State convoy on March 18, in Nineveh province, near the Syrian border, according to the Guardian newspaper. The newspaper reported that two separate sources, one an Iraqi official and the other an American diplomat, said Baghdadi was on the verge of death and no longer in full control of Islamic State's day-to-day activities.
Numerous reports of Baghdadi's serious wounding or death have spread across social and traditional media in recent months, as Kurdish and moderate Syrian rebel militias continue to battle IS on the ground in Iraq and Syria, assisted by US-led coalition warplanes that have been bombing militant targets since late last year.
In December, the US military said coalition airstrikes had killed Baghdadi's previous second-in-command, Abu Muslim al-Turkmani, near Mosul.
The US State Department last week put a $7 million bounty on Abu Alaa al-Afri's head. The reward information identified Afri as Abdul Rahman Mustafa al-Qaduli, and said the Mosul-born militant joined al Qaida in Iraq (AQI) in 2004 and served as a deputy to the late AQI leader Abu Musab al-Zarqawi and the AQI emir of Mosul.
The ongoing conflicts in Syria and Iraq have killed more than 200,000 and displaced millions, according to UN figures.
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