BEIRUT: A senior Isil leader who oversaw the group's gruesome execution videos has been killed in a US air strike in Syria, dealing a major blow to its propaganda war.
Wa'il Adil Hasan Salman al-Fayad, often referred to as Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant's (Isil) information minister, was hit in a targeted strike on his home in Raqqa on Sept 7. His death was confirmed by the Pentagon late on Friday night.
He is one of the group's five most senior figures and was thought to have been chosen earlier this month to replace Abu Mohammed al-Adnani, the group's spokesman and chief of propaganda, who was killed in a US air strike nine days earlier.
"Wa'il oversaw Isil's production of terrorist propaganda videos showing torture and executions," Peter Cook, Pentagon spokesman, said in the statement. "He was a close associate of Adnani, the Isil spokesman and leader for plotting and inspiring external terror attacks."
The Pentagon said Wa'il, who used the nom de guerre Abu Muhammad Furqan, was a prominent member of Isil's Senior Shura Council, or leadership group.
Wa'il was one of the more elusive of Isil's leaders. Unlike Adnani, who released regular statements through their media channels, no known pictures or audio messages of Wa'il exist.
However, he is credited with helping cultivate Isil's image into one of the most brutal terrorist organisations in history. He was responsible for the group's filmed beheadings of British and American journalists and aid workers, as well as the countless execution of Syrian and Iraqi civilians.
He led a team of mostly Western, media-savvy jihadists, whose slickly produced videos became effective recruitment tools. According to a report by the Quilliam Foundation, the organisation releases, on average, 38 new items per day - 20-minute videos, full-length documentaries, photo essays, audio clips, and pamphlets, in languages ranging from English to Bengali.
In recent months, Isil has stepped up its propaganda campaign as it faces mounting losses on the ground. The jihadists have felt renewed pressure from US and coalition air strikes and the new threat of Turkish tanks heading over the border. The group is now encouraging followers in the West to stay home and carry out attacks, as reaching the so-called caliphate has become increasingly difficult.
The announcement came as air strikes and clashes tested a fragile ceasefire in Syria. The ceasefire is the result of an agreement between Russia, which backs Syrian President Bashar al-Assad with air power, and the US, which supports some rebel groups, and has tempered fighting since coming into effect on Monday.
But there is deep mistrust on both sides. President Vladimir Putin yesterday cast doubt over Washington's commitment to the deal, saying the Americans were more focused on retaining their military capacity against Assad than separating moderate and militant groups.