Islamic State group seizes villages north of Aleppo city

In this image posted on Thursday, Oct. 8, 2015, by the Rased News Network, a Facebook page affiliated with Islamic State, shows Islamic State militants preparing to fire a mortar to shell towards Syrian government forces positions at Tal Arn in Aleppo province, Syria. Islamic State militants seized several villages from rival insurgents north of Aleppo city Friday, in a surprise attack that came despite intensive Russian airstrikes that Moscow insists are targeting the extremist group, activists said. Arabic reads, "Targeting positions of the Alawite army in Tal Arn with mortar shells." (Islamic State militant website via AP)

BEIRUT (AP) - Islamic State militants seized a string of villages from rival insurgents north of Aleppo city Friday, in a surprise attack that came despite intensive Russian airstrikes that Moscow insists are targeting the extremist group, activists said.

Iranian state media reported that a senior commander in Iran's powerful Revolutionary Guard was killed by the Islamic State group on the outskirts of Aleppo city, but it was not immediately clear whether Gen. Hossein Hamedani's death was related to the new IS offensive.

An Iranian state television report said he was killed while "carrying out an advisory mission," and the official IRNA news agency read a statement by the Guard in which it blamed IS for his death. Both reports did not provide further details.

The new developments come amid a wave of Russian airstrikes that have targeted insurgents fighting to topple President Bashar Assad, and a ground offensive by the Syrian army in the country's central region.

Moscow