Syrian Observatory says it has ‘confirmed information’ that Islamic State chief is dead

July 12, 2017 - 12:10 AM
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ISIS Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi
FILE PHOTO: A man purported to be the reclusive leader of the militant Islamic State Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi making what would have been his first public appearance, at a mosque in the center of Iraq's second city, Mosul.REUTERS / Social Media Website via Reuters TV / File Photo

CAIRO/BEIRUT – The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights told Reuters on Tuesday that it had “confirmed information” that Islamic State leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi has been killed.

The report came just days after the Iraqi army recaptured the last sectors of the northern Iraqi city of Mosul, which Baghdadi’s forces overran almost exactly three years ago.

Russia’s Defense Ministry said in June that it might have killed Baghdadi when one of its air strikes hit a gathering of Islamic State commanders on the outskirts of the Syrian city of Raqqa. But Washington said it could not corroborate the death, and Western and Iraqi officials have been skeptical.

Reuters could not independently verify Baghdadi’s death.

“(We have) confirmed information from leaders, including one of the first rank who is Syrian, in the Islamic State in the eastern countryside of Deir al-Zor,” said Rami Abdulrahman, the director of the British-based war monitoring group.

In Iraq, U.S. Army Colonel Ryan Dillon, spokesman for the U.S.-led coalition fighting Islamic State, said he could not confirm the news.

Abdulrahman said activists working with him in Deir al-Zor had been told by the Islamic State sources that Baghdadi had died, but not when or how. The sources said Baghdadi had been present in the eastern countryside of Syria’s Deir al-Zor province in the past three months.

The Pentagon said it had no information to corroborate the reports. Kurdish and Iraqi officials also had no immediate confirmation.

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.

The United States put up a $25 million reward for his capture, the same amount as it had offered for al Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden and his successor Ayman al-Zawahri. It is not yet known if anybody will claim the bounty.

The Islamic State leaders killed in Iraq and Syria since the U.S.-led coalition began its air strikes include Abu Ali al-Anbari, Baghdadi’s deputy; the group’s “minister of war”, Abu Omar al-Shishani, a close military adviser to Baghdadi; and Abu Mohammad al-Adnani, one of its most prominent and longest-serving leaders.