Islamic State Spokesman Targeted in U.S. Airstrike, Say Kurds

Islamic State Spokesman Targeted in U.S. Airstrike, Say Kurds

A U.S. airstrike targeted Islamic State’s spokesman, Kurdish military leaders said, further clouding the extremist group’s future after the death of its leader, Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi.

Abu al-Hassan al-Muhajir was targeted Sunday in a joint operation between the U.S. and Syrian Democratic Forces, according to the Kurdish-led group’s leader, Mazloum Abdi. Mr. Abdi didn’t specify whether the strike had killed Muhajir.

The operations against Baghdadi and Muhajir had “effectively disabled top ISIS leadership” who were hiding in northwest Syria, Mustafa Bali, a spokesman for the SDF, said.

The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, an independent war monitor, also said Muhajir had been targeted in an airstrike in the Jarablus countryside near the border with Turkey.

The reports came hours after the Trump administration said Baghdadi had died after detonating a suicide vest when he was cornered by U.S. Special Operations Forces in a tunnel during a raid on his hideout.

President Trump has hailed the death of Islamic State’s prominent leader as a major victory. But the killing of Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi could provoke more violence.

A U.S. military spokesman declined to comment on whether Muhajir had also been killed, but said “the coalition supports all efforts to disrupt and defeat ISIS senior leadership.”

Little is known about Muhajir, who became the voice of Islamic State after his predecessor, Abu Mohammed al-Adnani, was killed in an airstrike. His nom de guerre, Muhajir, means “the emigrant,” suggesting he is from neither Syria nor Iraq.

Reports that Muhajir was killed or disabled in the latest U.S. airstrike “makes Baghdadi’s death a lot more complicated for the organization,” said Hassan Hassan, director of the Non-State Actors program at the Center for Global Policy in Washington. “Now ISIS has to find a replacement and a way to deliver the news about the killing of Baghdadi and those were the only two public faces of the organization.”

More on Islamic State’s Baghdadi

Islamic State has yet to confirm news of Baghdadi’s death. Awaiting a formal announcement, some supporters sought to play down the impact of his loss.

“Beware of those who try to paint the caliphate through specific individuals…it won’t die with the death of any man,” said one message posted online by an Islamic State supporter, according to SITE Intelligence Group, which monitors jihadist postings. Others refused to believe their leader could be dead.

Islamic State is still reeling from the loss of its self-proclaimed caliphate earlier this year. Nonetheless, the group remains a threat in Iraq and Syria where it has reverted to insurgent tactics. Its flexible hierarchy and decentralized authority has helped it replace other slain leaders quickly.

U.S. intelligence officials previously said Islamic State had a succession plan in the event of Baghdadi’s death. One frequently mentioned successor is Iyad al-Obaidi, Islamic State’s defense minister and a veteran of late Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein’s Baath Party.

Another is Hajji Abdullah, identified by the U.S. State Department as a religious scholar in Islamic State’s predecessor organization, al Qaeda in Iraq, who rose through the ranks to assume a senior leadership role.

The State Department has offered a $5 million bounty for information leading to Mr. Abdullah’s capture, describing him as one of Islamic State’s most senior ideologues who helped drive and justify the abduction, slaughter, and trafficking of the Yazidi religious minority in Northern Iraq and was believed to oversee some of the group’s terror operations.

U.K.-based researcher Aymenn al-Tamimi, who closely monitors Islamic State, said Mr. Abdullah was often referred to in Islamic State as Baghdadi’s deputy and appeared the most likely candidate to replace him.

Write to Isabel Coles at isabel.coles@wsj.com

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