Acting leader of Isil 'killed in US-led air strike'
Abu Alaa al-Afri, believed to be the acting leader of Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (Isil), has been killed in a US-led coalition air strike, said Iraq's ministry of defence.
The Isil second-in-command was killed in a targeted attack on a mosque in the jihadist-held town of Tal Afar in northwestern Iraq, the government spokesman said.
Afri was reported last month to have assumed acting command of Isil after Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, the group's self-declared "caliph", was injured in a separate air strike in March.
According to reports, the severity of the spinal injuries suffered by Baghdadi mean he may never resume control of the group he masterminded to power, with operational control passing to Afri.
But Afri's control of the group appears to have been short-lived, if yesterday's unconfirmed reports are correct.
Iraqi government spokesman Brig-Gen Tahsin Ibrahim said Afri was meeting dozens of Isil militants in Tal Afar who also died in the strike, the BBC reported.
While the US-led coalition said it had carried out a strike in Tal Afar in the last 24 hours, Pentagon spokesman Col Steve Warren said the US could not independently confirm the reports that Afri had been targeted.
Iraq's interior ministry spokesman, Brig Gen Saad Maan Ibrahim, contradicted the defence ministry statement, saying while Afri was present at the airstrike, it wasn't clear what happened to him.
The US-led coalition said yesterday the strike on Tal Afar had destroyed a "militant fighting position and a heavy machine gun".
Afri is a physics professor and long-time senior official of Isil who was appointed deputy leader when his predecessor was killed by another air strike late last year.
Also known as Haji Iman, Afri taught in the northwestern Iraqi city of Tal Afar, and has reportedly built solid respect among Isil's senior leadership.
Afri is thought to have acted as the link between Baghdadi, his inner circle, and Isil's network of emirs in provinces across their self-proclaimed caliphate, spanning large swathes of Iraq and Syria.
Hisham al-Hashimi, senior adviser on Isil to the Iraqi government, described Afri as the "strongest man in [Isil] after Baghdadi".
"The injury of Baghdadi hasn't affected operations yet, but [his replacement] could see the beginning of disputes between Isil's foreign fighters and its Iraqis," Mr Hashimi said.