Around 40 militants of the so-called Islamic State (IS) terror group, including four senior commanders, were killed near Syria’s eastern city of Deir al-Zour by a Russian air strike, the Russian defense ministry said on Friday, according to the RIA news agency.
It said among those killed was Abu Muhammad al-Shimali, who oversees foreign fighters at IS, and Gulmurod Khalimov, IS “war minister” from Tajikistan.
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 Russian defense 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-Zour.
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-Zour and allowed the Syrian troops to begin liberating the city,” the Russian defense ministry said in a statement on September 8.
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-Zour,” the Russian Defense Ministry said, adding that the militant’s death has been confirmed.
RT news agency reports 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.
According to RT, conflicting reports indicate that another top IS commander, Gulmurod Khalimov, IS “war minister” from Tajikistan, was either killed or heavily injured in the Russian sortie.
The Russian defense ministry reportedly said Halimov was present at the meeting of IS warlords and was fatally wounded in the air strike. It said he had been evacuated to the Al-Muhasan area, 20 kilometers southeast of Deir el-Zour.
Recall, Colonel Gulmurod Halimov was commander of the Tajik special police unit, known as OMON. He went missing in April 2015 and later appeared on the Internet, saying he had joined the IS terror group.
Tajikistan has issued an international warrant for his arrest, and the United States has offered $3 million for information on his whereabouts.
There have been several unconfirmed reports from both northern Iraq and Syria since 2015 that Halimov was killed while fighting alongside IS forces.
Tajik authorities have repeatedly rejected those reports, saying they think he is still alive.