The Islamic State group’s second in command has been killed in a US raid in Syria, Pentagon chief Ashton Carter confirmed Friday, in a move he said would hamper the operational ability of the jihadists.
“The removal of this IS leader will hamper the ability for them to conduct operations inside and outside of Iraq and Syria,” Carter told reporters of the death of Abd ar-Rahman Mustafa al-Qaduli, referring to him as Haji Imam and saying he served as finance minister for the group.
In May 2015, the US State Department had announced a reward of up to US$7 million for information leading to his capture or death.
That same month, the Iraqi Ministry of Defense reported that Imam had been killed in a US coalition airstrike on a mosque.
However, Washington later denied that coalition planes had struck a mosque.
In addition to confirming Imam’s death later on Friday, Carter is expected to confirm the reported killing of IS’ “minister of war,” Abu Omar al-Shishani, in a strike earlier this month.
In another development, the Syrian army has reportedly taken control of a medieval castle on the hill overlooking the city of Palmyra as the government troops edge closer to reclaiming the historic site from Islamic State terrorists.
“The army units in cooperation with popular defense groups have taken control of the Tadmor [Palmyra] citadel after delivering significant losses to the terrorists,” SANA news agency reported, citing a military source.
The Syrian military began the storm of the Fakhr-al-Din al-Maani Castle or Palmyra Castle, which was the last strategic height in the city held by the jihadists, on Friday morning.
Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov said on Friday that Moscow expects a Syrian Army operation to retake the ancient city of Palmyra from Islamic State, with the support of the Russian Air Force, to be successfully concluded soon.
“We’re counting on the operation to liberate Palmyra, which is now carried out by the Syrian Army with support from Russia’s Air Force, to be successfully completed in the nearest future,” Lavrov stated.
Earlier, an army unit, in cooperation with the popular defense groups, dislodged IS from the Syriatel hill near the Palmyra Castle, a military source told Syrian state news agency SANA on Friday.
The government troops combed the hill after destroying the last IS hideouts and dismantled the explosive devices the militants left behind, the source said.
Several IS fighters were killed as the hill was taken, while the rest fled towards the city of Palmyra, leaving their weapons behind, he added.
The 13th-century Palmyra Castle or Fakhr-al-Din al-Maani Castle became a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1980.