Iraq says airstrike targeted senior Islamic State commander

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BAGHDAD (AP) — Iraq's Defense Ministry said Wednesday an airstrike by the U.S.-led coalition killed a senior Islamic State commander and others near the extremist-held city of Mosul, though the country's Interior Ministry later said it wasn't clear if he even was wounded.

The Defense Ministry said the strike killed Abu Alaa al-Afari and others who were in a meeting inside a mosque in the northern city of Tal Afar, 72 kilometers (45 miles) west of Mosul.

The ministry described al-Afari as a senior deputy to the Islamic State group's leader, Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi. It did not offer a time for the strike, nor any specific casualty figures. It did offer a black-and-white video clip of an airstrike hitting a building.

A Defense Ministry official told The Associated Press that the airstrike happened late Tuesday. He spoke on condition of anonymity as he is not authorized to speak to journalists.

But Interior Ministry spokesman Brig. Gen. Saad Maan Ibrahim contradicted the defense ministry statement, saying while al-Afari was present at the airstrike, it wasn't clear what happened to him.

Pentagon spokesman Col. Steve Warren said the U.S. could not independently confirm the reports that al-Afari had been targeted. The U.S.-led coalition said earlier Wednesday it carried out a strike in the past day near Tal Afar, destroying "an ISIL fighting position and an ISIL heavy machine gun," using a different acronym for the group. It later put out another statement saying: "We can confirm that coalition aircraft did not strike a mosque."

This wouldn't be the first time Iraqi authorities put out incorrect information in its war against the Islamic State group, which holds a third of the country and neighboring Syria. In November, a Defense Ministry statement claiming that al-Baghdadi was wounded in an Iraqi airstrike was later retracted.

Ibrahim said al-Afari was an alias for a wanted Islamic State group senior leader named Abd Al-Rahman Mustafa al-Qaduli. The U.S. Department of Treasury says al-Qaduli joined al-Qaida in Iraq in 2004 under the command of its slain leader, Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, and served as his deputy and the group's "emir," or senior leader in northern city of Mosul.

The Treasury Department adds that in 2006, al-Qaduli traveled to Pakistan on behalf al-Zarqawi to conduct an interview, which was then to be provided to al-Qaida leaders in Afghanistan. The Treasury Department added al-Qaduli to the list of specially designated global terrorists in 2014 "for acting for or on behalf of ... the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant," a former name for the Islamic State group.

The State Department, which offers up to $7 million for al-Qaduli, says he was born in 1957 or 1959 in Mosul. American officials, who list a variety of aliases for al-Qaduli, have Abu Alaa as one, though not Abu Alaa al-Afari.


Associated Press writers Vivian Salama in Baghdad and Robert Burns in Washington contributed to this report.

Copyright © The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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