Monday 24 July 2017

Shadowy Isil chief al-Baghdadi has been killed, says Syria group

The reclusive leader of Isil, Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, making his only public appearance, at a mosque in the centre of Mosul in 2014. Photo: Reuters
The reclusive leader of Isil, Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, making his only public appearance, at a mosque in the centre of Mosul in 2014. Photo: Reuters

Jodie Ensor in Beirut

Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, leader of Islamic State (Isil), is dead, according to a Syrian war monitor.

"(We have) confirmed information from leaders, including one of the first rank, in the Islamic State in the eastern countryside of Deir al-Zor," Rami Abdel Rahman, director of the UK-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, said.

"We learned of it today but we do not know when he died or how."

Russia's defence ministry said last month that it may have killed Baghdadi when one of its air strikes hit a gathering of Isil commanders on the outskirts of the Syrian city of Raqqa.

The US said it could not corroborate the death and Western and Iraqi officials have been sceptical.

Russia said the air strike took place on May 28 and claimed a number of Isil's senior leaders, including Baghdadi, were killed. However they have so far offered no proof.

News of his death has not been independently verified. Lt Gen Stephen Townsend, commander of the US-led coalition to fight Isil, said it was his "fervent hope" he was dead but that he had no confirmation. The self-appointed caliph's death had been announced many times before but the Observatory has a track record of credible reporting on Syria's civil war.

"We don't have proof of life" for Baghdadi, Gen Townsend said. "But I hope he's deader than a doornail." The Pentagon said in a statement yesterday that the US has no information to corroborate reports.

Baghdadi declared himself the head of Isil's so-called caliphate, spanning across Syria and Iraq, in the summer of 2014.

He made his first - and only - appearance from the Grand al-Nouri Mosque in Mosul. The world's most-wanted man has been rumoured wounded or killed many times in the past. The last sign of life he gave was in November last year after Iraqi forces, supported by the aerial might of the coalition, launched their reconquest of Mosul, the country's second city.

In an audio recording, he urged his men to defend Mosul to the bitter end and Iraqi elite forces have gained huge ground but are still battling die-hard jihadists around the Old City. He was said to have left Mosul earlier this year and has since been reportedly spotted in various areas near the Syrian-Iraqi border. But his whereabouts were never confirmed.

That low profile is partly what Baghdadi, who has a $25m US bounty on his head, had owed his rise as well as his survival to. (© Daily Telegraph London)

Telegraph.co.uk

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