Islamic State News Agency’s Founder Killed in Strike

SARAH EL DEEB

BEIRUT (AP) — The founder of the Islamic State group news agency was reported killed with his daughter in an airstrike last week in eastern Syria, Syrian activists said Thursday.

The militant group itself has not reported the death of the founder of Aamaq news agency, Baraa Kadek. Activists said Kadek was close to the IS leadership, gaining their trust and reportedly meeting with the enigmatic leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi.

His brother, Hozaifa, and former friends reported Kadek’s death, saying he died in a suspected airstrike by the U.S.-led international coalition fighting IS that hit his home in the town of Mayadeen in Deir el-Zour province.

The brother posted the announcement on his Facebook page. A former colleague of Kadek said he and his daughter and wife were wounded in an airstrike last Friday and that he died of his wounds Wednesday. Mohammed Khaled, executive manager of Aleppo 24, an activist-operated media platform and a former friend of Kadek, said his wife remains in critical condition.

Also Wednesday, supporters of IS and reports on activist websites said a prominent IS cleric was also killed in an airstrike. The circumstances and whereabouts of the death of Turki al-Binali, a Bahraini cleric who rose to be one of the group’s leading ideologues, were conflicting. Some supporters said he died in an airstrike in Deir el-Zour; while other activists said he died in Raqqa.

The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said an IS leading figure, believed to be from the Gulf, was killed in airstrikes in the last 48 hours. But the group couldn’t confirm if it was al-Binali.

If confirmed, the death of al-Binali would be a major blow to the group as it struggles with intensified attacks in Iraq and Syria. Al-Binali was also among the IS leaders that helped set up the group branch in Libya. He also provided religious justification for the enslavement of hundreds of women from Iraq’s Yazidi minority.

There was no immediate comment from the coalition on the reported deaths. Last week, the coalition told The Associated Press it had carried out a series of airstrikes on May 25 and 26 targeting IS media infrastructure and “propaganda facilities.” It said at the time that targeting such facilities “degrades” the group’s capabilities and its tools to inspire attacks on foreign lands.

At the time, activists said the coalition airstrikes killed at least 35 civilians, including family members of IS.

Mayadeen has become a refuge for IS leaders as the group comes under attack in Mosul in Iraq and their de-facto capital Raqqa in Syria. Some Syria watchers said the group’s media operations have moved to Mayadeen as the coalition and allied Syrian Kurdish-led forces close in on Raqqa.

Khaled said Kadek became close and trusted by the leadership of IS after he supported their presence in Aleppo city in 2013. The militants later clashed with other rebel factions, who chased them out of the city.

Khaled said Kadek met with al-Baghdadi in 2014 in Iraq during an introduction to the Aamaq network.

“He even bragged in one of his posts about being ‘honored’ by a meeting with al-Baghdadi,” Khaled said, speaking from Syria. Kadek was also a friend of Abu Mohammed al-Adnani, IS’s powerful spokesman who was killed in an airstrike in Aleppo in September 2016.

Aamaq news agency— which surfaced in 2014_has become the group’s fastest and most reliable source of information. The militants have used it to post news, videos and claims of their attacks worldwide. It has remained online despite bans from social media platforms. The group has other media outlets, including a daily recorded news bulletin and a weekly magazine.

Kadek was first known for his support of the moderate opposition and rebel groups, founding a media platform to cover their news. Khaled said Kadek’s transformation was remarkable and came as funds dried up for the network he founded in the early days of the revolt against Syria’s government.

Originally from Aleppo province, he later joined IS in 2013, covered their activities in Aleppo and later moved on to found the group’s flagship media arm.

Copyright 2017 The Associated Press. All rights reserved.

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