‘Emir of Deir ez-Zor’ among ISIS commanders killed in bunker by Russian airstrike
Russia’s Su-34 and Su-35 fighter jets scrambled from Khmeimim Air Base in Syria’s Latakia province hit a high-profile gathering of Islamic State’s (IS, formerly ISIS/ISIL) field commanders on September 5, the ministry said. It noted that the Russian Air Force was acting upon the intelligence it received from several sources indicating that a meeting of senior IS militants was about to take place in one of the underground command centers on the outskirts of Deir ez-Zor.
The militants were set to discuss ways to fend off the offensive by the Syrian forces, which were making rapid gains toward the city, which had been besieged by IS for three years.
As result of the airstrike at least 40 IS members, including four field commanders, were killed on the spot. An underground command center and terrorist communication hub were destroyed.
“The effective actions of the Russian Air Force speeded up the lifting of a siege from the city of Deir ez-Zor and allowed the Syrian troops to begin liberating the city,” the ministry said in a statement on Friday.
Among the senior militants killed is internationally wanted Abu-Muhammad al-Shimali (also known as Tirad Al-Jarba), the self-proclaimed “emir of Deir ez-Zor,” the Russian Defense Ministry said, adding that the militant’s death has been confirmed.
Al-Shimali, an Iraqi-born Saudi citizen and a former Al-Qaeda member, pledged his allegiance to ISIS in 2015 and later became notorious for being the one in charge of smuggling foreign fighters into its territory.
In 2015, the US State Department offered a bounty of up to $5 million for information leading to al-Shimali’s capture and arrest, while describing him “a key leader in ISIL’s Immigration and Logistics Committee” coordinating “smuggling activities, financial transfers, and the movement of supplies into Syria and Iraq from Europe, North Africa, and the Arabian Peninsula.”
Apart from smuggling recruits into Syria, al-Shimali was also believed by “several European intelligence agencies” to be involved in the November 2015 Paris attacks, the ministry added. French investigators had previously determined, according to media reports, that at least three of the attackers arrived in France via migrant routes, with at least one of them getting a fake passport from his IS handlers.
Another top IS commander, Gulmurod Khalimov, IS “war minister” from Tajikistan, was either killed or heavily injured in the Russian sortie, conflicting reports indicate. It was reported that Khalimov managed to escape to an area some 20 kilometers to the southeast of Deir ez-Zor, the ministry said.
A former special forces chief in his native Tajikistan, Khalimov participated in several counterterrorism training courses organized by the US State Department in the US and Tajikistan up to 2014 before pledging his allegiance to IS the year later. In 2016, the US State Department offered a reward of up to $3 million for information on Khalimov.
It is not the first time Khalimov is reported to have been killed on the battlefield. In April, an Iraqi military source told The Times that the militant was slain in an airstrike in western Mosul.
Syrian Army troops backed by the Russian Air Force managed to break the three-year-long siege of the city of Deir ez-Zor on September 5, following fierce clashes with IS terrorists on its outskirts.
Deir ez-Zor Governor Muhammed Ibrahim Samra told RT's Ruptly agency on Thursday that the long-awaited lifting of the siege became “peak of excitement” for soldiers and civilians, suffering from shortage of water, food and electricity. It has also finally allowed Russia to send humanitarian aid convoys to the area, as previously all the aid was delivered by air.
Earlier this week, the Russian Defense Ministry said that during the operation to reach Deir ez-Zor, the Syrian Army captured a strongly fortified sector on the outskirts of the city, held by IS terrorists originating from Russia and former Soviet republics. Ahead of the assault on the fortifications, the Russian Air Force and the Admiral Essen frigate performed strikes on the terrorist positions.