US Central Command, which is coordinating the air campaign to “degrade and defeat” the Islamic State inside Iraq and Syria, denied that it launched an airstrike on a mosque near the northern Iraqi city of Tal Afar that is rumored to have killed the jihadist group’s deputy emir.
Iraq’s Ministry of Defense released a statement today claiming that Abu Alaa al Afari, the purported deputy emir of the Islamic State, Akram al Qurbash, who is also known as Mullah Meisar, and “a large number” of fighters were killed in “an air strike by international coalition forces” at the Martyrs mosque in a village near Tal Afar. Qurbash is said to command the Islamic State’s military forces in Ninewa province.
Afari, a Turkman whose real name is Abdul Rahman Mustafa Mohammad, is known to coordinate with the Islamic State’s “provinces” outside of Iraq and Syria. He is said to have taken over day to day operations for Baghdadi, who has been rumored to have been seriously wounded Or killed several times in airstrikes over the past year. These reports have not been confirmed and US military officials have stated they believe he remains in firm control of the Islamic State.
The Iraqi government has a poor track record in claiming the deaths of senior leaders of the Islamic State and its predecessor, al Qaeda in Iraq.
The Islamic State has not released an official statement announcing the death of Baghdadi, nor have well known jihaidsts linked to the group announced his death on social media accounts.
US Central Command, which runs Operation Inherent Resolve, the coalition of countries that is launching airstrikes in Iraq and Syria, denied that it conducted the strike against a mosque and said it has “no information” about the death of Afari.
“We are aware of media reports that the second-in-command of ISIL has been killed in a Coalition air strike in Tal Afar and have no information to corroborate these claims,” CENTCOM stated in a press release. “However, we can confirm that Coalition aircraft did not strike a mosque as some of the press reporting has alleged.”
“We have significant mitigation measures in place within the targeting process and during the conduct of operations to reduce the potential risks of collateral damage and civilian casualties,” CENTCOM concluded.
The US military is sensitive about striking religious sites, and terrorists frequently use mosques as meeting places and weapons storage sites.
CENTCOM conducted one airstrike in the Tal Afar area between 8:00 AM May 12 and 8:00 AM May 13. According to a press release, it “destroyed an ISIL fighting position and an ISIL heavy machine gun.” ISIL is an acronym for the Islamic State of Iraqi and the Levant (or Syria), the previous name of the Islamic State. The US military persists in calling the jihadist group by the acronym despite the fact that the group changed its name to the Islamic State nearly one year ago when Baghdadi declared the establishment of his “caliphate.”
Are you a dedicated reader of FDD's Long War Journal? Has our research benefitted you or your team over the years? Support our independent reporting and analysis today by considering a one-time or monthly donation. Thanks for reading! You can make a tax-deductible donation here.