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ISIS Says No. 2 Leader Abu Muhammad al-Adnani Is Dead in Syria

The Pentagon says coalition forces carried out a precision strike.
Image: Abu Muhammad al-Adnani
Abu Muhammad al-Adnani is the director of external affairs for ISIS – and the leading target for U.S. military and intelligence officials.Flashpoint

The ISIS second-in-command who incited lone-wolf terrorist attacks on the West has been killed, the terror group's media arm announced Tuesday.

The Pentagon said it could not yet confirm the death of Abu Muhammad al-Adnani but announced that coalition forces had carried out a "precision strike" targeting him near Al-Bab, a Syrian town near the Turkish border.

"We are still assessing the results of the strike, but al-Adnani's removal from the battlefield would mark another significant blow to [ISIS]," Pentagon spokesman Peter Cook said in a statement.

Al-Adnani was ISIS' charismatic director of external operations and its main propagandist. He served as its No. 2 leader but was at the top of the U.S.'s ISIS kill list, with a $5 million bounty on his head.

Earlier in the day, a U.S. military intelligence official had told NBC News that al-Adnani was wounded several days ago and succumbed to his injuries in Al-Bab.

It was not clear which country's forces killed him. Turkish air forces have been operating in the area, and the U.S. has been providing intelligence on targets to Turkey under a program called "Nomad Shadow," the military intelligence official said.

Al-Adnani was one of ISIS' longest-serving leaders, best known for issuing an edict for lone wolves to kill Westerners in September 2014.

“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 entered into a coalition against the Islamic State, then rely upon Allah, and kill him in any manner or way however it may be," he said in the audio recording.

"Smash his head with a rock, or slaughter him with a knife, or run him over with your car, or throw him down from a high place, or choke him, or poison him.”

Abu Mohammad al-Adnani speaking next to an Islamist flag at an undisclosed location. / AFP PHOTO / YOUTUBE / HOHO/AFP/Getty ImagesHO / AFP - Getty Images

The exhortation helped propel him to the top of the list of ISIS leaders the U.S. wanted to kill.

"There is a large amount of evidence suggesting that he was tremendously influential in terms of pushing individuals in Western countries to carry out homegrown terrorist attacks," said Evan Kohlmann of Flashpoint, an NBC terrorism analyst.

"He is one of the top figures in ISIS. He is very closely associated with ISIS terrorist operations abroad."

Al-Adnani was one of the first foreign fighters to oppose U.S. Coalition Forces in Iraq after he crossed the border from his native Syria in 2003.

He swore allegiance to Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, the Al Qaeda in Iraq leader later killed by U.S. fighter-bombers. He reportedly was captured in 2005 and taken into custody at a camp run by the U.S. military, but was freed in 2010.

After his release, he became the chief spokesman for ISIS, and by 2014 he had assumed a top operational role. The U.S. declared him a "specially designated global terrorist" in August 2014.

His death comes less than six months after two other top ISIS officials — finance minister Haji Iman and No. 3 Omar al-Shishani — were killed.

"This is a really big blow for ISIS," said Laith Alkhouri, co-founder of Flashpoint. "It's not going to be what breaks its back but it could break the morale of fighters who idealized him so much."