US-led coalition kills Islamic State leader tied to murder of American

The Islamic State announced the murder of Peter Kassig in a 2014 video.

The US-led coalition in Iraq and Syria said today that Abu al Umarayn, a senior Islamic State figure, has been killed in an airstrike. Umarayn and “several” other Islamic State leaders were killed in recent bombings, according to a statement issued by Col. Sean Ryan, the spokesman for Combined Joint Task Force – Operation Inherent Resolve (CJTF-OIR).

Col. Ryan claimed that Umarayn “had given indications of posing an imminent threat to Coalition Forces,” though it isn’t clear what that means. Umarayn was also “involved in the killing of American Citizen and former US Army Ranger, Peter Kassig,” as well as “several other prisoners.”

Kassig, who was serving as an aid worker in Syria, was kidnapped in 2013. In Nov. 2014, the Islamic State released a video documenting the beheadings of Syrian soldiers at the hands of Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi’s henchmen. That same video concluded with a scene announcing Kassig’s death. [See FDD’s Long War Journal report: Islamic State releases new execution video, purportedly kills American.]

With less than two minutes left in the video, the terrorist known as “Jihadi John” appeared standing over Kassig’s head. “Jihadi John’s” real name was Mohammed Emwazi, who was killed in 2015. The executioner said that Kassig fought against Muslims during the war in Iraq. He taunted Kassig, saying the dead American “doesn’t have much to say,” as his “previous cellmates have already spoken on his behalf.”

The Islamic State used the video, and Kassig’s death, to threaten the US. Addressing President Obama, the masked man known as “Jihadi John” said: “[Y]ou claim to have withdrawn from Iraq four years ago. We said to you then that you are liars, that you had not withdrawn. And that if you had withdrawn you would return after some time.”

“You returned, here you are, you have not withdrawn,” the Islamic State man said to Obama. America has hid behind its proxies, “Jihadi John” claimed, but its forces “will return in greater numbers than before.” Citing Zarqawi, the Islamic State’s executioner said the “spark has been lit in Iraq” and that they are “eagerly awaiting for the remainder of your armies to arrive.”

More than four years later, “Jihadi John’s” prediction has proven to be mostly false. The US continued to work with proxy forces to clear the Islamic State out of its strongholds in Iraq and Syria, though the group’s men continue to operate as insurgents.

The Islamic State’s murder of Kassig was controversial even within jihadi circles. Some al Qaeda officials objected to Kassig’s murder on the grounds that he was assisting Muslims in Syria and had been welcomed by their co-religionists. In their view, therefore, it was illegal under sharia law to kill him. The Guardian (UK) reported that two leading pro-al Qaeda clerics, Abu Qatada and Abu Muhammad al Maqdisi, had attempted to negotiate with the Islamic State on behalf of Kassig. Their effort failed, as the Islamic State consistently denied the legitimacy of any outside jihadi ideologues.

The US military did not elaborate on Abu al Umarayn’s specific role in Kassig’s murder, or how it knows that he was “involved.”

Separately, the Iraqi government has reported that another Islamic State operative, a jihadist known as Jamal al Mashadani (also known as Abu Hamza Al Kurdi), has been captured. A video of his confession was aired on national television in Iraq. The New York Times, The National and other press outlets covered his testimony.

Mashadani confessed to his role in displaying captured Kurdish fighters in cages in Hawija, Iraq. That incident occurred in 2015, not long after the Islamic State burned a Jordanian pilot alive in a similar cage. Mashadani served as the Islamic State’s governor in Kirkuk and admitted to playing a role in the so-called caliphate’s chemical weapons program. Like many Islamic State figures, Mashadani was once a member of Saddam Hussein’s regime. According to the Times, he belonged to Saddam’s military intelligence service before joining al Qaeda in Iraq, the predecessor to the Islamic State.

The US-led coalition and its allies have hunted other Islamic State leaders and operatives in recent weeks.

On Nov. 26, CJTF-OIR reported that Iraqi Security Forces had killed a “senior leader” known as “Katkut” in Salah ad Din province. Katkut was killed as he was “fleeing from the scene” of a rocket attack. He had “previously operated out of Al Hadr, an area southwest of Mosul” and “also led an ISIS mortar detachment.”

Meanwhile, CJTF-OIR and its main ally, the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF), continue to battle the Islamic State in eastern Syria. The jihadists launched an offensive in late November, forcing the US-led coalition and SDF to counterattack.

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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2 Comments

  • Moose says:

    Sounds like Mashadani is a Kurd who worked with the Baathists against his own people and couldn’t go back. There’s a really interesting documentary out there about Kurds who joined IS and were ostracized from their communities. I wonder why he hates his own people so much.

  • Birbal Dhar says:

    Yes Mashadani was a Kurd, but he didn’t care about his ethnicity. He was an islamic terrorist supporter concerned more about islam than Kurdish nationalism. There are many Kurds like Mashadani, who are mostly from Iraqi Kurdistan and supportive of islamic fundamentalism. In every community, there is always a bad apple !!

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