Haji Imam Killed: ISIS’ Second In Command Killed By U.S.-Led Coalition

Haji Imam, believed to be ISIS’ second in command, was killed by an operation led by U.S. special forces earlier this week, MSN is reporting.

Speaking from the Pentagon on Friday, Defense Secretary Ash Carter confirmed that Haji Imam, whom Carter described as ISIS’ “finance minister” and a “well-known terrorist,” was killed by U.S. special forces. According to the Daily Beast, coalition forces had been tracking Imam for days, before finally getting their chance to ambush the vehicle that was carrying him.

Imam, whose real name is believed to have been Abd ar-Rahman Mustafa al-Qaduli, was considered next in line to succeed the Islamic State’s current leader, self-described “Caliph” Omar al-Baghdadi. However, some observers believe that Imam might have been ineligible for the job due to his Turkoman ethnicity.

Imam’s killing marks the second major victory against ISIS’ senior command this month. Tarkhan Batirashvili, whose nom de guerre is Omar al-Shishani or “Omar the Chechen,” was killed in an airstrike in Syria, according to the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights.

Just because Haji Imam appears to have been killed, Carter was adamant that blows to the terrorist organization’s senior leadership doesn’t necessarily mean that the battle against ISIS is over — or even close. Still, Imam’s death will be hard for ISIS to recover from.

“Leaders can be replaced. However, these leaders have been around for a long time. They are senior, they are experienced.”

Although not necessarily in direct retaliation to the recent terrorist attacks in Brussels, which killed over 31 people, including two Americans, the targeted strikes against senior ISIS leadership come at a time when European and American officials are being called upon to ramp up their war on terrorism — ISIS in particular — which has claimed responsibility for the Belgium attacks.

Meanwhile, leaders of coalition forces insist that their strategy against ISIS hasn’t changed since the Brussels attacks. Accompanied by General Joseph Dunford, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Carter said that there has been “no fundamental shift” in the U.S. approach to handling ISIS in Iraq in Syria. Carter did state that the campaign is being accelerated.

On the ground in Syria, U.S. and coalition special forces are working with local forces to help each other in the fight against ISIS, by directing their movements, teaching them how to gather and share intelligence, coordinating efforts at calling in air strikes, and assisting the local forces in their own special operations.

Meanwhile, back in Europe, law enforcement officials continue to carry out raids against suspected terrorist cells in Belgium and France, in response to this week’s Brussels terror attacks. As the raids continue, officials are just now coming to terms with the scope of the network of ISIS supporters, particularly in the Brussels slum of Molenbeek, which is known to be a hotbed of anti-Western extremism and would-be jihadists.

Officials believe they have uncovered a “wide network” of supporters and sympathizers behind both the ISIS-linked November, 2015, terrorist attacks in Paris, and the March, 2016, Brussels terrorist attacks.

Ash Carter declined to state whether Haji Imam was killed in Iraq or Syria.

[AP Photo/Jake Simkin]