OAK BLUFFS, Mass. (AP) — The No. 2 leader of the Islamic State militant group was killed in a U.S. military airstrike in Iraq earlier this week, the White House said Friday.
Ned Price, a spokesman for the White House National Security Council, said Fadhil Ahmad al-Hayali was traveling in a vehicle near Mosul, in northern Iraq, when he was killed Tuesday.
As the senior deputy to IS leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, al-Hayali was the primary coordinator for moving large amounts of weapons, explosives, vehicles and people between Iraq and Syria, where IS militants control vast amounts of territory.
The United States is leading a coalition of countries that have spent the past year striking at IS militants, weaponry and machinery from the air but has made little progress in meeting President Barack Obama’s goal to “degrade and destroy” the group, which has also beheaded hostages, including some Americans.
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Al-Hayali oversaw the IS in Iraq, where he planned operations over the past two years, including an offensive the group launched in Mosul in June 2014. He was a member of al-Qaida in Iraq, the predecessor group to IS.
Also killed in Tuesday’s airstrike was an IS media operative known as Abu Abdullah.
Price characterized al-Hayali’s death as a blow to the organization because his influence spanned finance, media, operations and logistics for the group. But his removal from the scene is unlikely to affect IS operations or weaken the group and will most likely lead to even tighter security and secrecy around al-Baghdadi, whom Iraqi intelligence officials say has mostly kept out of sight since he was wounded in an Iraqi airstrike near the Syrian border.
The IS leader uses hand-delivered mail to communicate with leaders of the group, shunning the use of more traceable telephones or email. He has recently, according to the officials, brought to his inner circle former fellow inmates from his time at the U.S.-run detention facility known as Bocca in southern Iraq, where he was held nearly 10 years ago.
One of the Iraqi officials said al-Baghdadi’s deputy was traveling in a white SUV with Abu Abdullah and two escorts when they were hit by the American airstrike at 8:30 a.m. local time. The two escorts were also killed, the official said.
A Pentagon spokesman, Navy Capt. Jeff Davis, said al-Hayali was an Iraqi national and had been a member al-Qaida’s Iraq affiliate during the U.S. war in Iraq. Davis said al-Hayali had been detained by U.S. forces in early 2005 for his al-Qaida connection and turned over to the Iraqi government a short time later.
“He admitted at this time, in 2005, to being a bookkeeper for al-Qaida in Iraq and involvement in weapons trafficking and support for extremist operations,” Davis said.
Davis said it is believed that he served as military emir for IS in Baghdad and then headed the group’s presence in Iraq’s Ninewa province between 2011 and 2012. Al-Hayali also was a conduit between al-Qaida in the Arabian Peninsula and IS senior leadership, Davis said.
Davis would not provide additional details about the U.S. airstrike that killed al-Hayali, saying only that a fixed-wing aircraft carried it out. He would not say whether that was a drone or a piloted aircraft.
Hendawi reported from Baghdad. AP National Security Writer Robert Burns in Washington and Associated Press writer Qassim Abdul-Zahra in Bagdhad contributed to this report.
This story has been corrected to show that al-Hayali is believed to have headed the group’s presence in Iraq’s Ninewa province between 2011 and 2012, not 2001 and 2012.