August 31, 2016

TSG IntelBrief: The Islamic State Loses Its Loudest Voice

• On August 30, Abu Mohammad al-Adnani was reportedly killed in an airstrike in northern Aleppo. 

• Al-Adnani’s death was reported across several Islamic State media outlets; if confirmed, his death represents one of the group’s most significant personnel losses.

• Al-Adnani was far more than an effective spokesman for the terror group; he was its second highest ranking member and ran its external operations branch.

• While it is likely some Islamic State external attack plans are already finalized, the death of al-Adnani could blunt the group’s siren song to terror, both directed and inspired.


The so-called Islamic State has reportedly lost its loudest voice, and one of its original and most influential members. According to several Islamic State media outlets, Taha Subhi Falaha, infamously known as Abu Mohammad al-Adnani, was killed in an airstrike in northern Aleppo. The U.S. issued a statement that al-Adnani had been the target of an airstrike in al-Bab, Syria, but they were still assessing the results of that strike. If confirmed, the death of al-Adnani would be among the worst personnel losses the group has experienced since it declared itself a caliphate in 2014.

In his role as spokesman for the Islamic State, al-Adnani was the voice behind its call to terror, inspiring supporters from around the globe to attack the group’s many enemies wherever and however possible. In September 2014, al-Adnani gave a recorded message urging for attacks in the West, exhorting supporters to attack with knives or cars if possible. This call to terror, and the weaponization of everyday life and instruments, has been answered in cities across the world. 

Al-Adnani was far more than the spokesman for the Islamic State, however; he was its second highest ranking member and head of its external operations branch. In that role, he helped plan and put into action attacks such as the November 2015 Paris attacks, which killed 137 people and wounded more than 300. Given the sheer number of Islamic State members and supporters and the length of time the group has had to plan external attacks—coupled with demonstrated gaps in the EU’s ability to detect and disrupt the travel of known foreign fighters—there are likely cells already in place in the EU, perhaps with plans already in motion.

As both the spokesman and the head of external operations, al-Adnani was most responsible for the dual-natured threat of Islamic State directed and inspired attacks, which have left intelligence agencies scrambling to counter a real, yet amorphous threat. By publicly calling for Islamic State supporters to carry out the most simple of attacks, al-Adnani made detection and disruption much harder while still increasing casualty counts—one of his most significant and lasting impacts. The July Nice attack—precisely the kind of attack al-Adnani had called for—involved nothing more than a truck, yet still killed 86 people. 

Al-Adnani was one of the few surviving members of the original group founded by Abu Musab al-Zarqawi. Long before the declaration of a caliphate, the Islamic State’s previous iterations—such as al-Qaeda in Iraq—were among the most violent and effective terror groups in Iraq after the 2003 U.S. invasion. Al-Adnani was a trusted associate of Zarqawi, whose manipulation of media and spectacle of public savagery would be imitated by al-Adnani as the Islamic State exploded onto the global scene in 2014. Over the last 14 years, al-Adnani has been front and center as Iraq, and then Syria, became the stage of unrelenting and escalating terror. He had been imprisoned both by the U.S. in Iraq and the Assad regime in Syria. As with other infamous terrorists, the arc of al-Adnani’s terror history was long, and bent towards massive suffering and destruction. His death will not bring about the end of the Islamic State. Nonetheless, it marks a significant loss for the group and removes a leading actor from the terror stage.


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