Moscow, Jun 16 (PTI) Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, the elusive Islamic State terror group chief may have been killed in a targeted airstrike by the Russian military near the Syrian city of Raqqa last month, the Defence Ministry said here today.
Russian Sukhoi warplanes carried out a 10-minute night- time strike on May 28 on a command post of the Islamic State at a location near Raqa, the dreaded militant group’s de facto capital, where top leaders of the outfit were meeting, according to Russian state media reports.
“According to information, which is being verified via different channels, the meeting was also attended by the (ISIS) leader Ibrahim Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, who was eliminated in the strike,” the TASS news agency quoted the ministry as saying.
The IS leaders were discussing their exit from the city through the so-called southern corridor, the ministry said.
The US has been informed about the attack, it said.
The airstrike was carried out following drone footage confirmation of the council’s meeting location.
Other state media reported that more than 300 “terrorists” were killed in the strike.
Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, which is a nom de guerre, was born Ibrahim Awwad Ibrahim Ali al-Badri al Samarrai.
Baghdadi, said to be in his mid-40s has not been seen in public since proclaiming himself “caliph” in the Iraqi city of Mosul three years ago.
In October 2011, the US officially designated Baghdadi as a “terrorist”. It has offered a reward of up to USD 25 million for information leading to his capture or death.
There have been multiple reports of Baghdadi’s death in the past that have turned out to be false.
This is the first time, however, that Russia has said it may have killed the IS leader. Other media reports have previously claimed he had been killed or critically injured by US-led coalition air strikes.
Reacting to the report, Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov told journalists that there is no one-hundred-per cent confirmation yet that leader of the Islamic State terror group outlawed in Russia, al-Baghdadi, has been killed,
“So far, I have no one-hundred-percent confirmation of this information,” Lavrov said.
US defense officials said they were unable to confirm the reports. Col. Ryan Dillon, a spokesman for the US-led coalition’s operation against ISIS in Syria and Iraq, said the coalition “cannot confirm these reports at this time.”
There has been no official comment from Syria’s government, the BBC reported.
The US military had captured Baghdadi in Falluja, Iraq, in 2004. But he was freed in 2009 as he was considered a low- level al Qaeda member.
However, within a year, he emerged as the leader of Iraq’s al Qaeda affiliate, heading up a renewed campaign of bombings and assassinations. Al Qaeda leaders later severed relations with him, saying he was insubordinate, killing too many civilians.
As the leader of ISIS, which has seized and lost swaths of territory in Iraq and Syria, he earned a reputation for brutality.
So far, there has been minimal reaction from online supporters of IS to news of the reported death of the group’s leader, it said.
IS sympathisers typically ignore reports from unofficial IS sources or ridicule them, especially given that Baghdadi’s death has been reported several times in the past.
One high-profile IS supporter on the messaging app Telegram shared a post denying the news and saying that when an IS leadership figure is killed, the group does not hide it.
He expected Baghdadi to come out soon with a message to prove he was still alive.
ISIL is an acronym for the so-called IS group, also known as ISIS and Daesh.