The Iraq ministry of defense says Abu Alaa al-Afari was killed while at a mosque. The U.S. denies having struck a mosque. And “there have been many previous announcements from Baghdad during its long struggle against the Islamist militants which have not been subsequently borne out.” Also, the Iraqis say that the top man, the caliph, was seriously injured. The U.S. denies that as well. Why U.S. officials would deny striking a mosque is immediately clear. But the rest of this is a muddle.
“Islamic State deputy leader ‘killed in Iraq air strike,'” BBC, May 13, 2015:
The second-in-command of Islamic State (IS) has been killed in a US-led coalition air strike in northern Iraq, the Iraqi ministry of defence says.
Abdul Rahman Mustafa Mohammed, also known as Abu Alaa al-Afari, was at a mosque near Tal Afar that was targeted, spokesman Brig-Gen Tahsin Ibrahim said.
However, the US military later denied coalition planes had attacked a mosque.
In recent weeks, there were unconfirmed reports that Afari had taken temporary charge of IS operations.
Iraqi sources claimed IS leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi had been incapacitated as a result of an air strike in Iraq in March.
Gen Ibrahim told the BBC that Afari was killed alongside dozens of militants who he had been meeting at the al-Shuhada (Martyrs) mosque in the village of al-Iyadhiya, near Tal Afar, where he was reportedly a well-known preacher.
Tal Afar, in the northern province of Nineveh, was seized by IS in June 2014.
The general did not specify which country had carried out the air strike, but the US has been responsible for the vast majority since the coalition campaign began last August.
The ministry of defence separately published video purportedly showing the strike. It did not say when it took place, but one official told the Associated Press it was on Tuesday.
The Governor of Nineveh, Atheel al-Nujaifi, told the BBC in Washington that his contacts had confirmed Afari’s death.
The US-led coalition said on Wednesday it had carried out a strike in the Tal Afar area against “an Isil (IS) fighting position and an Isil heavy machine gun”, adding: “We can confirm that coalition aircraft did not strike a mosque.”
Adding to the confusion, the Iraqi interior ministry was quoted as saying that although Afari was present at the scene of the air strike, it wasn’t clear what had happened to him.
The Iraqi government has previously announced the deaths of IS leaders only for them to resurface alive.
But the BBC’s Ahmed Maher in Baghdad says that if Afari’s death is confirmed, it would represent another blow to IS, which has suffered a series of losses on the battlefield in recent months.
Analysis – Jim Muir, BBC News, Beirut
The man known as Abu Alaa al-Afari is believed to rank number two to IS leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, and commensurately has the highest US bounty on his head ($7m) apart from Baghdadi himself ($10m).
There are conflicting reports about the fate of Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi
The Iraqi authorities continue to insist that Baghdadi himself was incapacitated and had handed operational control to Afari after being badly wounded in an earlier strike – something the Pentagon has denied.
There have been many previous announcements from Baghdad during its long struggle against the Islamist militants which have not been subsequently borne out. So many observers will be sceptical of this latest claim until it is bolstered by independent confirmation….