US says Baghdadi’s top deputy killed in airstrike

The White House announced today that Fadhil Ahmad al Hayali (a.k.a. Hajji Mutazz), the “senior deputy to ISIL leader Abu Bakr al Baghdadi,” was “killed in a US military airstrike on August 18 while traveling in a vehicle near Mosul, Iraq, along with an ISIL media operative known as Abu Abdullah.” ISIL (Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant) is the US government’s preferred acronym for the Islamic State.

A statement attributed to NSC Spokesperson Ned Price describes al Hayali as “the second in command of the terrorist group ISIL” and as an “ISIL Shura Council member.” He was “a primary coordinator for moving large amounts weapons, explosives, vehicles, and people between Iraq and Syria.” Al Hayali “supported ISIL operations in both countries and was in charge of ISIL operations in Iraq, where he was instrumental in planning operations over the past two years, including the ISIL offensive in Mosul in June 2014.”

The NSC says al Hayali was a member of al Qaeda in Iraq and stayed with the organization as it evolved into the current ISIL, which claims to rule as a “caliphate” over large parts of Iraq and Syria. Al Hayali’s “influence spanned ISIL’s finance, media, operations, and logistics.”

Al Hayali was reportedly killed at least once before. In December 2014, US military officials told the press al Hayali (identifying him by his alias, Hajji Mutazz) had been killed in one of two airstrikes against ISIL’s top leadership late last year.

Like a number of other senior leaders in the so-called “caliphate,” al Hayali’s dossier begins in Saddam Hussein’s Baathist regime. And details of his career were reportedly uncovered in documents captured from other fallen ISIL leaders.

In 2014, two ISIL leaders, Abu Abdulrahman al Bilawi (a.k.a. Adnan Ismail Najm), the group’s military emir, and Samir al Khlifawi (a.k.a. Hajji Bakr), Baghdadi’s deputy, were killed. Al Sharq al Awsat, citing Hashim al Hashimi, an analyst who read the documents recovered in Bilawi’s house, subsequently reported that al Hayali was formerly “a lieutenant colonel in the Iraqi Army’s intelligence service, and served for a time as [an] officer in the Special Forces.”

Bilawi himself had served as an infantry officer before joining al Qaeda in Iraq. Khlifawi was a former colonel who had been involved in the development of weapons systems. Khilfawi is widely credited in jihadist circles with helping to flame the feud between ISIL and al Qaeda. The uncompromising approach that both he and Baghdadi took to waging jihad meant that their organization would inevitably clash with anyone who didn’t take their orders.

Still other senior ISIL leaders were once members of Saddam’s military and intelligence services as well. The current ISIL has successfully fused elements of the oppressive Baathist regime with a gory version of global jihadism to become a lethal killing machine. Its Baathist roots give ISIL a home turf advantage in Iraq and enhance its military efficacy, while its jihadist roots give the organization a wider appeal, bringing in recruits from around the globe.

The loss of al Hayali may very well “adversely impact ISIL’s operations,” as the NSC says in its statement today. But the organization and its predecessors have survived decapitation strikes in the past. Like other insurgency organizations that use terrorism as a tactic to achieve their goals, ISIL has a deep bench of middle managers who are capable of filling in for leaders taken out by the US and its allies.

Abu Musab al Zarqawi, the founder of al Qaeda in Iraq, was killed in June 2006. The insurgency was not stopped. Nearly four years later, in April 2010, Zarqawi’s successors, known Abu Ayyub al Masri and Abu Omar al Baghdadi, were killed. Their front organization, the Islamic State of Iraq, was severely degraded by a leadership attrition campaign, the US-led surge of forces, and a tribal “awakening.” But the group quickly rebounded once the last American forces were withdrawn from Iraq at the end of 2011. Abu Bakr al Baghdadi took over and, under his leadership, the Islamic State (or ISIL) became the global pariah that it is today.

Still, the loss of leaders such as al Hayali can have unexpected consequences. Baghdadi’s rise to power, along with other events, eventually led al Qaeda to disown the group.

Thomas Joscelyn is a Senior Fellow at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies and the Senior Editor for FDD's Long War Journal.

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7 Comments

  • gitsum says:

    Yeah, good shooting, bottoms up, good way to start the weekend! Just a matter of time Baghdadi……. Glad I’m not you!

  • rtloder says:

    Never mind IS, that’s old news, how about their replacement in Syria the so-called Moderates, ?, my belief is it’s a face saver peace maker like Obama’s Chemical redline, what ideology are they posing.?.

  • Paddy Singh says:

    US brass must be celebrating, popping champagne bottles, but does it make any difference to the Isis? There are many who will take Hayali’s place. And Isis will continue expanding their territory, till a better ground force opposes them. The Middle Eastern armies are out of the question because they will only run and boost the armoury of the thugs. Who then? It will have to be the US and UK who put created the Isis and put them in place with the Iraq invasion. But then, with both leaders impotent, it may be too late. And again too late, till Trump triumphs in the US Presidential election.

  • Kevin says:

    Slight correction Abu Abdulrahman al Bilawi (a.k.a. Adnan Ismail Najm) was killed in late May 2014 in Mosul.

  • Rachel Banks says:

    Some one must be listening to chater. How else would the administration know al-Hayali is dead. The administration has made this mistake once before.

  • irebukeu says:

    Well, while so many people are shaking in their boots about the big bad islamic state, intermittently pleading for nuclear weapons and or new leadership in the war, terrified that abu Bakr is about to pull their card, The US CIA and military is at work. Quietly and from the clouds.

    Ramadan has come and gone and all the pleas from the Islamic State for muslims it DEMANDS loyalty from, to unleash hell upon earth, on the west during this ramadan have gone unheeded by the 1.6 billion muslims in the world.

    Thats some caliphate ya got there Bakr.

    Meanwhile Bakr is done like dinner. The hellfire missile with his name on it is already circling over Mosul or ar Raqqa waiting for him. He is late for it in fact. His circus of hate will soon be over and its tents will be folded in by muslim armies and militias. Jordan, Turkey, Egypt, Qatar are all allied against it. Others too. The so called axis of evil fights against it. Iraq fights it tooth and nail (OK, OK, the teeth are rotten and the nails are painted), Iran fights it. Even Russia and China are against the Islamic state. al qaeda punches it in the face.
    Can anyone name a state allied with the Islamic state?
    Times up.

    Pretty soon people who sign up for martyrdom operations will be handed the second and third ranking positions in the Islamic state, not keys to a VBIED.

    The only chance IMO for abu Bakr is for the west to insert ground troops into the middle east. That is his ‘hail mary’ that might make something happen for him. Otherwise he is done. I see no room for contiguous growth for the Islamic State outside of the very limited areas of sunni land within its reach.
    To make that hail mary happen at this point means terror attacks in the west, enough that the western public demands some action. He can’t seem yet to make that happen.
    The EU had better check out these Syrian and Afghan refugees very close (or just send them back). Oh, and good luck with them.

    The real danger to the west from the Islamic State IMO, is when the Islamic State becomes comes unhinged and its surviving members are reabsorbed back into al Qaeda, or when the west sends its ground forces into the fray and the Islamic State finally gets what it so desperately wants.
    I see a bigger danger in al qaeda.
    In point I see the mission and objectives of al qaeda as being just such a result that would lead to the rise of the islamic state, it’s just that they thought that they themselves would be in control.
    Question- Since abu bakr declares a state and al qaeda rejects that claim, does al qaeda bear any koranic responsibility to defend that “state” if invaded by western ground troops?

    I think they do and that any western ground intervention that was obvious would be counterproductive in the longer run. I believe what we are doing in syria made all of this happen to the extent that it has.

  • Verneoz says:

    So, many of these ISIS douche bags are former Saddam Baathists? How come the news media avoids conveying this fact? Oops, I forgot…laziness and bias are the reasons.

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