Russia’s Defence Ministry said on Friday it was checking information that a Russian air strike near the Syrian city of Raqqa may have killed Islamic State leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi in late May, Russian news agencies reported.
The air strike, targeted a meeting of IS leaders and was carried out on May 28, the agencies cited the ministry as saying.
“According to the information which is now being checked via various channels, Islamic State leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, who was eliminated by the air strike, was also present at the meeting,” RIA news agency quoted the ministry as saying.
Born Ibrahim al-Samarrai, Al-Baghdadi is a 46-year-old Iraqi terrorist who broke away from al-Qaeda in 2013, two years after the capture and killing of the group’s leader Osama bin Laden.
He grew up in a religious family, studied Islamic Theology in Baghdad and joined the Salaafi jihadist insurgency in 2003, the year of the US-led invasion of Iraq.
He was caught by the Americans who released him about a year later as they considered him then as a civilian rather than a military target.
His last recorded speech was issued in early November 2016, two weeks after the start of the Mosul battle, when he urged his followers to fight the “unbelievers” and “make their blood flow as rivers”.
U.S. and Iraqi officials believe he has left operational commanders behind with diehard followers to fight the battles of Mosul and Raqqa, to focus on his own survival.
Al-Baghdadi does not use phones and has a handful of approved couriers to communicate with his two main aides, Iyad al-Obaidi, his defence minister, and Ayad al-Jumaili, in charge of security.
At the height of its power two years ago, Islamic State ruled over millions of people in territory running from northern Syria through towns and villages along the Tigris and Euphrates river valleys to the outskirts of the Iraqi capital Baghdad.
It persecuted non-Sunnis and even Sunnis who did not agree with its extreme version of Islamic law, with public executions and whippings for violating strict controls on appearance, behavior and movement.
But the group has been retreating since in the face of a multitude of local, regional and international forces, driven into action by the scores of deadly attacks around the world that it has claimed or inspired.
Overall, Islamic State has 8,000 fighters left, of which 2,000 are foreigners from other Arab states, Europe, Russia and central Asia, said Abu Ragheef.(dpa/NAN)