The so-called Islamic State (IS) group confirmed on 30 August that one of its most prominent and longest-serving leaders, Abu Muhammad al-Adnani, was killed in what appears to be an American air strike in Syria, effectively depriving the militant group of the man in charge of directing attacks overseas.
IS’ Amaq News Agency has reported that Adnani was killed “while surveying the operations to repel the military campaigns against Aleppo.” While IS holds territory in the province of Aleppo, it does not control the city, where rebels are fighting Syrian government forces. Amaq did not say how Adnani, born Taha Subhi Falaha in Syria’s Idlib Province in 1977, was killed, however it did publish a eulogy dated 29 August. A US defense official has also disclosed that the United States targeted Adnani in a Tuesday strike on a vehicle that was travelling in the Syrian town of al-Bab. The official however stopped short of confirming Adnani’s death. Such US assessments usually take several days to confirm and often lag behind official announcements made by militant groups.
Adnani was one of the last living senior members of IS, along with self-appointed caliph Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, who founded the group, which would later go on to seize huge parts of Iraq and Syria in 2014. He was a Syrian from Binish in Idlib, southwest of Aleppo, who pledged allegiance to IS’ predecessor, al-Qaeda, more than a decade ago. He was once imprisoned by US forces in Iraq. He was from a well-to-do background however he left Syria to travel to Iraq in order to fight US forces there after the 2003 invasion. He returned to his homeland after the start of its own civil war in 2011. According to the Brookings Institution, he once taught theology and law in jihadi training camps. He had been the chief propagandist for IS since he declared in a June 2014 statement that it was establishing a modern-day caliphate spanning swaths of territory that it had seized in Iraq and neighbouring Syria. As IS’ spokesman, Adnani was its most visible member, often being the face of the militant group, such as when he issued a message in May urging attacks on the US and Europe during the holy month of Ramadan and as in September 2014, when he called on supporters to kill Westerners throughout the world. As the group’s head of external operations, he was in charge of attacks overseas, including in Europe, which this year have become an increasingly important tactic for the group as its core Iraqi and Syrian territory has ben eroded by military losses. Under Adnani’s auspices, IS launched large-scale attacks, bombings and shootings on civilians in countries outside its core area of operations, including France, Belgium and Turkey. According to one US official, Adnani’s roles as propaganda chief and director of external operations had become “indistinguishable” because the group uses its online messages in order to recruit fighters and to provide instruction and inspiration for attacks.
According to SITE Intelligence monitoring group, which monitors jihadist activity online, a statement in the group’s al-Naba newspaper has indicated that the group reacted by stated that his death would not harm it and that his killers would face “torment,” adding “today, they rejoice for the killing…and then they will cry much when Allah will overpower them, with His permission, with affliction of the worst torment by the soldiers of Abu Muhammad and his brothers.” A US counter-terrorism official, who monitors IS, has disclosed that Adnani’s death will hurt the militants “in the area that increasingly concerns us as the group loses more and more of its caliphate and its financial base…and turns to mounting and inspiring more attacks in Europe, Southeast Asia and elsewhere.”
On the ground, advances by Iraq’s army and allied milita towards IS’ most important possession in the country, Mosul, have put the group under new pressure at a time when a US-backed coalition has cut its Syrian holdings off from the Turkish border. These setbacks have also been due to air strikes, which have killed a number of the group’s leaders and which have undermined its organizational ability and dampened its morale.
Amongst senior IS officials killed in air strikes this year are Abu Ali al-Anbari, Baghdadis’ formal deputy, and the group’s “minister of war,” Abu Omar al-Shishani.
The United States government on Tuesday 31 May warned Americans travelling to France this summer that stadiums hosting matches in the Euro Cup 2016 Tournament as well as other affiliated venues likely to draw large numbers of fans could be vulnerable to becoming terrorist targets. The advisory however stops short of telling Americans to stay away from Euro 16 host cities.
On Tuesday, the US State Department issued a new Europe-wide US travel advisory. In it, it highlighted concern about the potential for terror strikes aimed at the European Soccer Championships, which are due to run from 10 June – 10 July. It included venues where large numbers might gather to watch the games on jumbo screens, for instance in outdoor squares or parks, amongst the sites at risk. The advisory indicates that “we are alerting US citizens to the risk of potential terrorist attacks throughout Europe, targeting major events, tourist sites, restaurants, commercial centres and transportation.” IT states that “France will host the European Soccer Championship from June 10 – July 10…Euro Cup stadiums, fan zones, and unaffiliated entertainment venues broadcasting the tournaments in France and across Europe represent potential targets for terrorists, as do other large-scale sporting events and public gathering places throughout Europe.” It adds that “France has extended its state of emergency through July 26 to cover the period of the soccer championship, as well as the Tour de France cycling race, which will be held from July 2 – 24.” While the advisory stop short of telling travellers to stay away from areas of potential risk, it does recommend that they “exercise vigilance,” monitor local media nad law down plans to stay in touch with family in case of an emergency.
The advisory comes as French authorities are already bracing for a possible resurgence of hooliganism at some of the venues. Matches that have already been identified as having the potential for fan violence include England v. Germany and Russia V. Wales. With twenty-four teams competing, about 2.5 million fans, most form other countries, are expected to converge on France over the next month. The French government has conceded that the fear of new terror attacks, potentially carried out by the so-called Islamic State (IS) group, is a reality, with Patrick Calvar, head of the DGSI intelligence agency, telling the French parliament’s defense committee in May that “we know that (IS) is planning more attacks…and that France is clearly a target.” While he did not mention the Euro 16 specifically, he added that the French police “may be coming face to face with a new type of attack – a terrorist campaign characterized by planting explosive devices where where large crowds are gathered…to create as much panic as possible.” He went on to state that “the question, when it comes to the threat, is no ‘if,’ but ‘when’ and ‘where.’”
The US travel advisory also noted that France, where police resources have been stretched since the November 2015 attacks in Paris that killed 130 people, also must contend with the staging of the annual Tour de France bicycling race, which will take place throughout July.
The US advisory also singled out the Catholic Church’s World Youth Day festival, which is set to take place for five days starting on 25 July in Krakow, Poland. It notes that this event will likely trigger unusual levels of security vigilance and associated complications for travellers. The US State Department travel advisory will remain in effect until 31 August.
French Prime Minister Manuel Valls has disclosed that the French government plans to extend a state of emergency, which was initially imposed in the wake of the 13 November 2015 attack in Paris, to cover the Euro 2016 football tournament, which the country will host in June.
During a radio interview, the Prime Minister indicated that given the scale of the event, security has to be ensured. He confirmed that Interior Minister Bernard Cazeneuve will seek other minister’s approval of the extension later on Wednesday 20 April before asking parliament to vote on it, adding “the state of emergency cannot be permanent, but on the occasion of these big events…we have to prolong it.”
The European football competition involves twenty-four national teams and will run from 10 June to 10 July. The proposed two-month extension, which would also cover the Tour de France bicycle race, however will require parliamentary approval. The current state of emergency, which gives police additional powers to carry out searches and place people under house arrest, runs until 26 May. Despite concerns raised by rights groups, who reported that police had abused their powers the state of emergency was extended for an additional three months in February.
The coordinated gun and bomb attacks in Paris in November killed 130 people and were claimed by the so-called Islamic State (IS) group. The Stade de France football stadium, which will host the opening match of Euro 2016 and the final, was targeted by suicide bombers.
Security will be tight at the Euro 2016 tournament, with more than 1,200 security officials deployed for matches at the Stade de France, and an average of 900 across all stadiums in France. On Friday, 15 April, Mr Cazeneuve disclosed that more than 3,500 searches and 400 arrests have been carried out since the state of emergency was first imposed in November.