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Pentagon Confirms Death of Islamic State 'Grand Mufti'

FILE - A missile is fired from city of Kermanshah, in western Iran, targeting the Islamic State group in Syria, June 19, 2017. Syrian government and allied troops have inserted themselves into the battle against IS militants by capturing key areas on the flanks of the coalition-led battle to seize Raqqa.

The Pentagon has confirmed the death of one of Islamic State’s leading ideologues in a coalition strike late last month.

Turki al-Binali, the terror group's so-called “Grand Mufti,” or chief cleric, was killed May 31 in an airstrike in Mayadin, Syria, Pentagon spokesman Capt. Jeff Davis told reporters Tuesday.

Al-Binali was central in recruiting foreign fighters to Islamic State and was a close confidante of ISIS leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi.

“He provided propaganda to incite murder and other atrocities,” Davis said. “His recruiting efforts for the terror group also included multiple recorded lectures attempting to justify and encouraging the slaughter of innocents.”

Reports say al-Binali also provided religious justification for the enslavement of hundreds of women from Iraq's Yazidi minority.

Before Tuesday’s confirmation, some reports had said the Bahraini cleric died in an airstrike in Deir-Ez Zur, Syria, while other supporters claimed he died in the group’s de-facto capital, Raqqa.

The death signifies a major blow to the group as it struggles with intensified attacks in Iraq and Syria.

Officials say some IS leaders have fled to Mayadin as the group comes under attack in Raqqa and Mosul, Iraq.

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    Carla Babb

    Carla is VOA's Pentagon correspondent covering defense and international security issues. Her datelines include Ukraine, Turkey, Pakistan, Afghanistan, Iraq and Korea.