CENTCOM confirms Islamic State’s ‘Grand Mufti’ killed in airstrike

US Central Command (CENTCOM) confirmed today that the Islamic State’s Turki al-Bin’ali was killed in a May 31 airstrike in Mayadin, Syria.

Mayadin, which is in the eastern Syrian province of Deir Ezzor, has become a hub for the so-called caliphate’s senior personnel. The US has targeted several high-profile figures in or near the city this year.

Earlier this month, multiple reports on jihadist social media and in the press indicated that al-Bin’ali had been killed. His demise was first confirmed by the Kurdistan Region Security Council (KRSC), which helps coordinate coalition airstrikes against the Islamic State. The KRSC’s official Twitter feed also posted the picture of al-Bin’ali seen on the right.

As the Islamic State’s “chief cleric,” al-Bin’ali played a “central role in recruiting foreign terrorist fighters and provoking terrorist attacks around the world,” according to CENTCOM.

CENTCOM accurately describes al-Bin’ali as a “close confidant” of Baghdadi’s, noting that he called on jihadists to “pledge allegiance” to the supposed caliph.

The US Treasury Department and United Nations designated al-Bin’ali as a terrorist in 2016. [See FDD’s Long War Journal report: Treasury sanctions Islamic State oil and religious officials, facilitator in Gaza.]

According to the UN, he “was chosen as the chief religious advisor” for the Islamic State in Nov. 2014, just months after he relocated to Syria. He authored “fatwas” for the group’s training camps and was tasked with “settling disputes” within the organization. The UN also described al-Bin’ali as the “head” of the Islamic State’s “religious compliance police” and its “accountability unit,” which are among the authoritarian organization’s control mechanisms.

Al-Bin’ali was an early advocate on behalf of Baghdadi and his caliphate-building project.

The UN notes that he “authored propaganda materials” for the group, “including a call for Muslims to pledge loyalty to” Baghdadi as early as Apr. 2013. This was months before al Qaeda’s general command disowned Baghdadi’s organization in Feb. 2014, and more than a year prior to the Islamic State’s public caliphate declaration.

Al-Bin’ali’s works included a biography of Baghdadi that defended “his qualifications to be the so-called ‘caliph’, and an essay setting forth the legal arguments and scriptural evidence used by [the Islamic State] to announce its establishment of the so-called ‘caliphate,'” the UN reported on its designation page.

Al-Bin’ali also became a key player in the Islamic State’s rivalry with al Qaeda.

After he arrived in Raqqa, according to the UN, al-Bin’ali “attempted to persuade” al Qaeda “leaders to pledge allegiance” to Baghdadi’s state.

He also threatened attacks in his native Bahrain, and led a “support network” that recruited “Gulf nationals” for the jihadists’ cause. According to an op-ed in the The New York Times by Sayed Ahmed Alwadaei, the director of advocacy at the Bahrain Institute for Rights and Democracy, another member of the Binali family, Mohamed Isa al-Binali, followed Turki’s lead into the caliphate’s ranks. Mohammed Isa al-Binali, a former “officer” in Bahrain’s Ministry of Interior, was designated as a terrorist by the State Department just last week.

A hub for senior Islamic State personnel in Mayadin, Syria

Turki al-Bin’ali is the latest senior Islamic State figure to be killed in or around Mayadin, Syria.

When the KRSC announced al-Bin’ali’s, it said that he oversaw the Islamic State’s “external attacks” — that is, terrorist plotting outside of the jihadists’ battlefields. He reportedly assumed this position after Abu Muhammad al Adnani, the group’s spokesman and external operations chief, was killed near Al Bab, Syria last August. Al-Bin’ali authored a glowing biography for Adnani that was published online in 2014.

Other senior jihadists killed near Mayadin also reportedly played a role in the Islamic State’s external operations arm.

The US military announced that Abdurakhmon Uzbeki, a “close associate” of Baghdadi, was killed during a special forces raid on April 6. Uzbeki “played a key role” in the group’s “external terror attack plotting” and was tied to the New Year’s attack on the Reina nightclub in Istanbul, Turkey. [See FDD’s Long War Journal report, US: Abu Bakr al Baghdadi’s ‘close associate’ killed in special operations raid.]

Mustafa Gunes and Abu Asim al-Jazaeri were struck down near Mayadin earlier this year as well. According to CENTCOM, both were part of the Islamic State’s “external operations” when they were bombed. Gunes was killed on Apr. 27, while al-Jazaeri perished in a separate airstrike on May 11. [See FDD’s Long War Journal report, CENTCOM: Three senior Islamic State foreign fighters killed.]

Thomas Joscelyn is a Senior Fellow at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies and the Senior Editor for FDD's Long War Journal.

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