Russia says its air strike kills several top Islamic State commanders in Syria

MOSCOW (Reuters) - A Russian air strike has killed around 40 Islamic State fighters, including four senior commanders, near the eastern Syrian city of Deir al-Zor, Russia’s defense ministry said on Friday.

The strike, carried out by Su-34 fighter-bombers and Su-35 fighters, came after an intelligence report on Sept. 5 showed that top Islamic State commanders were meeting at a secret underground command post in the vicinity of Deir al-Zor, the ministry said on its Facebook page.

Among those killed was Abu Muhammad al-Shimali, who oversees foreign fighters at IS, it said.

The defense ministry also said it had evidence that Gulmurod Khalimov, Islamic State’s “minister of war”, was present at the meeting in the bunker and had been fatally wounded in the strike and evacuated to the al-Muhasan area, 20 km (13 miles) southeast of Deir al-Zor.

Khalimov, the U.S.-trained commander of Tajikistan’s elite police force, defected to Islamic State in April 2015 and later posted a video address, vowing to return home to establish sharia law in his Central Asian nation and to take jihad to Russia and the United States.

A top official at Tajikistan’s national security service told Russia’s RIA news agency that Moscow had been asked to provide details proving Khalimov’s elimination.

On Tuesday Syrian government forces, supported by Russian air strikes and cruise missile launches, reached troops besieged for years by Islamic State in Deir al-Zor, the militants’ last major stronghold in Syria.

Reporting by Vladimir Soldatkin; Additional reporting by Dmitry Solovyov; Editing by Gareth Jones