Islamic militancy

Islamic State leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi ‘confirmed dead’, Syrian human rights group says

The US-led coalition fighting IS in Syria and Iraq said it could not confirm the report

PUBLISHED : Tuesday, 11 July, 2017, 9:07pm
UPDATED : Wednesday, 12 July, 2017, 2:17am

The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights war monitor said on Tuesday it had “confirmed information” from top Islamic State leaders about the death of the jihadist organisation’s chief, Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi.

The US-led coalition fighting IS in Syria and Iraq said it could not confirm the report.

“Top tier commanders from IS who are present in Deir-ez-Zor province have confirmed the death of Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, emir of the Islamic State group, to the Observatory,” the monitor’s director Rami Abdel Rahman said.

“We learned of it today but we do not know when he died or how.”

Deir-ez-Zor, in eastern Syria, remains largely under IS control even as the group loses territory elsewhere in the country and in neighbouring Iraq.

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Abdel Rahman said Baghdadi “was present in eastern parts of Deir-ez-Zor province” in recent months, but it was unclear if he was killed in the area or elsewhere.

There was no official confirmation or denial of the news on social media platforms used by IS.

The US-led coalition said it could not verify the Observatory’s report.

“We cannot confirm this report, but hope it is true,” said coalition spokesman Colonel Ryan Dillon.

“We strongly advise ISIS to implement a strong line of succession, it will be needed,” he added, using a different acronym for IS.

There have been persistent rumours of Baghdadi’s death in recent months, and Russia’s military said in mid-June that it was seeking to verify whether it had killed the IS chief in an air strike in Syria in May.

Russia’s army said Sukhoi warplanes carried out a 10-minute raid on May 28 at a location near the IS stronghold of Raqqa, where group leaders had gathered to plan a pull-out from the area.

The US-led coalition also said at the time it could not confirm whether the Russian strike had killed Baghdadi.

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The 46-year-old Iraqi-born leader of IS has not been seen in public since making his only known public appearance as “caliph” in 2014 at the Grand Mosque of Al-Nuri in Mosul.

IS destroyed the highly symbolic site before Iraqi forces could reach it as they pushed the jihadist group from Mosul, where Iraq’s government formally declared victory on Monday.

With a $25 million US bounty on his head, Baghdadi has kept a low profile and was rumoured to move regularly throughout IS-held territory in the area straddling Iraq and Syria.

Baghdadi’s death has been announced many times before, but the Observatory has a record of credible reporting on the Syrian conflict. Islamic State-affiliated websites and social media feeds have so far said nothing.

The death of Baghdadi, who declared a caliphate governed by Islamic law from a mosque in Mosul in 2014, would be one of the biggest blows yet to the jihadist group, which is trying to defend shrinking territory in Syria and Iraq.

Late last night, US President Donald Trump tweeted: “Big wins against ISIS!”