ISIS leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi was reportedly killed during a Russian airstrike late last month in Raqqa that also claimed the lives of several other high-ranking ISIS leaders, according to the Russian Defense Ministry.
“According to information, which is being checked through various channels, IS leader Ibrahim Abu-Bakr al-Baghdadi was also present at the meeting and was killed as a result of the strike,” the ministry said in a statement.
Russian aircraft carried out airstrikes near the (now former) ISIS capital of Raqqa in northern Syria on May 28, the ministry said. The strikes targeted a meeting of high-ranking Islamic State chiefs where al-Baghdadi was said to be present, Reuters and Russia Today reported. The ISIS leaders had gathered to discuss “routes for the exit of militants from Raqqa through the so-called ‘southern corridor’."
Al-Baghdadi could be among about 30 Islamic State commanders killed by the attack, the ministry added though it provided no explanation for the delay in reporting the strike, which is said also killed about 300 Islamic State fighters, Bloomberg added.
The US-led coalition has not confirmed the Russian reprort “We cannot confirm these reports at this time,” said Colonel Ryan Dillon, a military spokesman, in a statement.
Others raised doubts about the likelihood that Baghdadi died in the strikes. Rami Abdulrahman, director of the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, said that according to his information, Baghdadi was located in another part of Syria at the end of May.
“The information is that as of the end of last month Baghdadi was in Deir al-Zor, in the area between Deir al-Zor and Iraq, in Syrian territory,” he said by phone.
Questioning what Baghdadi would have been doing in that location, he said: “Is it reasonable that Baghdadi would put himself between a rock and a hard place of the (U.S.-led) coalition and Russia?”
Considered the leader of ISIS, Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, Born Ibrahim al-Samarrai, is a 46-year-old Iraqi who broke away from al Qaeda in 2013. Since the US-led coalition became involved in the battle against ISIS back in 2014, al-Baghdadi’s death has been reported a handful of times, but never confirmed. The ISIS leader is reclusive; the last public video footage of Baghdadi shows him dressed in black clerical robes declaring his caliphate from the pulpit of Mosul's medieval Grand al-Nuri mosque back in 2014, according to Reuters.
To be sure, reports of Baghdadi's death may be - once again - greatly exaggerated: as Bloomberg reminds us, there have been several previous unconfirmed reports of his death, including in March 2015 and in June 2016, that al-Baghdadi was seriously wounded in air strikes carried out by U.S.-led coalition forces. In March 2017, U.S. defense officials said he left Mosul before Iraqi forces began their offensive there.