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US airstrike kills IS recruiter as Kurdish forces advance in Syria

Islamic State fighter
Islamic State fighter Syrian Observatory for Human Rights

A "high profile" recruiter for the Islamic State armed group has been killed in a US airstrike in northern Iraq. Pentagon spokesperson Colonel Steve Warren said Tuesday that Ali Awni al-Harzi's death “degrades” the group’s "ability to integrate north African jihadists” into the fight in Syria and Iraq.

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The IS operative, thought to be behind the 2012 Benghazi attack in which US ambassador John Christopher Stevens and three other Americans were murdered, was killed in an airstrike on the city of Mosul in mid-June.

As well as planning the attack in Libya, the Tunisian was a leader of the group’s recruitment strategy, the Pentagon said.

The Islamic State tailor their recruitment messages according to where and when they are delivered.

In Libya the lack of sectarian divisions and the fragmented nature of  society mean IS have so far failed to gain control of swathes of the country, Frederic Wehrey of the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, told RFI.

The "brand of the Islamic State” is eclipsing other jihadist groups in the region, Wehrey said, adding that the “base of young impressionable jihadists” is “gravitating” towards IS because “with that affiliation comes prestige and funding”.

Whilst IS’s foothold in Libya slowly expands, Syrian Kurdish forces, backed by US war planes, have driven the jihadists from a military base just north of Islamic State’s self-declared capital of Raqqa. The strategically important base is along a key road between the Islamists' strongholds of Raqqa, Aleppo and Hasakah.

The Kurdish forces are building momentum after also recapturing the border crossing of Tal Abyad between Syria and Turkey just days before, but the Director of the Institute for Near East and Gulf Military Analysis, Riad Kahwaji, told RFI the fragmented nature of IS’s command mean their ability to regroup and counterattack should not be underestimated.

UN investigators today said the cycle of violence in the country is accelerating.

Paulo Pinheiro, who’s heading an inquiry on the human rights situation in Syria, denounced the seemingly deliberate targeting of civilians in the country, suggesting forces loyal President Bashar al-Assad’s government are inflicting even more damage to civilians than IS fighters in the country.

Pinheiro decried the indiscriminate attacks on civilian areas by all sides in the conflict but said the government’s superior firepower and control of the skies inflicts the most damage by far.

On Monday a barrel bomb, the use of which is banned by the UN, hit a mosque in Aleppo during evening prayers, killing at least 10 people and wounding dozens more.

Lama Fakih, a senior crisis advisor with Amnesty International, told RFI “barrel bombs serve the government's function in terms of punishing populations where opposition groups are in control”.

This week the UN security council and Human rights council are meeting to discuss the use of these unlawful weapons in Syria.

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