Less than a week after Reuters confirmed a previous report from the Russian foreign ministry, that Islamic State head Aby Bakr al-Baghdadi had been killed during an airstrike in Syria, conflicting reports have emerged about Baghdadi's death, with the Iraqi interior ministry first cited by Al-Arabiya that the terrorist group head is "likely still alive and hiding near Raqqa", and subsequently a top Kurdish counter-terrorism official echoing the same, and telling Reuters that "he was 99 percent sure that Islamic State leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi was alive and located south of the Syrian city of Raqqa, after reports that he had been killed."
"Baghdadi is definitely alive. He is not dead. We have information that he is alive. We believe 99 percent he is alive," Lahur Talabany told Reuters in an interview, adding "don't forget his roots go back to al Qaeda days in Iraq. He was hiding from security services. He knows what he is doing."
By now, however, it no longer matters whether the "leader" is alive or dead: after Iraqi security forces retook Mosul from ISIS control last week, and the group under growing pressure in Raqqa, ISIS is scattered and on the run. If anything, Baghdadi has become a liability to others and himself.
Recall that it was the Islamic State which originally reported Baghdadi's death, perhaps as a means of easing the blow from the ongoing ISIS failure:
"Daesh organisation (IS) circulated a brief statement through its media in the (IS-held) town of Tal Afar in the west of Mosul, confirming the killing of its leader al-Baghdadi without giving further details," Xinhua news agency cited Iraqi news agency al-Sumaria News as saying. "Daesh called on the (IS) militants to continue their steadfastness in the redoubts of the caliphate and not being dragged behind the sedition."
Still, Talabany said the Islamic State was shifting tactics despite low morale and it would take three or four years to eliminate the group. After defeat, Islamic State would wage an insurgency and resemble al-Qaeda on "steroids", he said. Which likely means more unrest in Europe.
As Reuters also adds, the future leaders of Islamic State were expected to be intelligence officers who served under former Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein, the men credited with devising the group's strategy.
Meanwhile, the Kremlin which originally reported news of Baghdadi's death now appears to be backing off, with spokesman Dmitry Peskov saying the Kremlin has "no precise info on ISIL leader al-Baghdadi's death", adding that "conflicting reports on the matter keep coming."