A man considered to be the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria’s (ISIS) second in command was killed by U.S. forces earlier this week, the Pentagon announced Friday.
An operation this week killed Haji Imam, a senior religious leader who was considered to be in line to succeed ISIS leader Omar al-Baghdadi. He was also the group's finance minister and responsible for external affairs, according to Defense Secretary Ash Carter.
“The momentum of this campaign is now clearly on our side,” Carter added.
Carter declined to provide any more details on the operation that killed Imam.
“Any more details than that could put lives and future operations at risk,” he said.
His death is the second high-profile ISIS casualty this month. A U.S. airstrike at the beginning of March targeted ISIS’s defense minister, Georgian-born Tarkhan Tayumurazovich Batirashvili. He was also known as "Omar the Chechen.”
The announcement comes at a time of growing anxiety about ISIS, which claimed responsibility for terrorist attacks in Brussels this week that killed at least 31 people, including at least two Americans.
While Carter couldn’t confirm whether Imam was involved in the Brussels attack, he said Imam was involved in recruiting foreign fighters like the ones that attacked the city.
“There’s no question that this individual and other individuals we’ve eliminated have been part of the apparatus of ISIL to recruit and to motivate foreign fighters,” he said, “both to return from Iraq and Syria to countries in Europe and elsewhere and also simply by using the internet and other communications.”
Imam, whose real name is Abd al-Rahman Mustafa al-Qaduli, had previously been involved with al Qaeda, where he was a top deputy to leader Abu Musab al-Zarqawi.
In addition to Imam, several other “key” ISIS members were killed this week, Carter said.
While Carter touted the deaths of senior ISIS leaders, he acknowledged that taking out individual members won’t defeat the terrorist group.
“Leaders can be replaced,” he said. “However, these leaders have been around for a long time. They are senior; they’re experienced. And so eliminating them is an important objective and achieves an important result. But they will be replaced.”
The Treasury Department had sanctioned Imam as a “Specially Designated Global Terrorist,” and the Justice Department had put out a reward of up to $7 million for information leading to him.
He joined ISIS in 2012 after being released from an Iraqi prison, according to the Justice Department reward listing.
Rep. Joe Heck (R-Nev.), a member of the House Armed Services Committee, said Imam’s death was an important achievement.
“Haji Imam strike shows how effective intelligence community, special ops and military personnel can be when given opportunity,” he said in a tweet. “With Islamic State in state of disarray at the loss of their #2 in command, we should increase pressure on other targets around region.”
Updated at 1:38 p.m.