Friday 24 November 2017

Isil leader 'killed in Russian airstrike'

Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi. Photo: AFP
Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi. Photo: AFP

Bassem Mroue in Beirut

Russia claimed yesterday it killed the leader of the Islamic State group in an airstrike targeting a meeting of Isil leaders just outside the group's de facto capital in Syria.

The Russian Defence Ministry said Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi was killed in a Russian strike in late May along with other senior group commanders.

Previous reports of al-Baghdadi being killed turned out not to be true. The Isil leader last released an audio on November 3, urging followers to keep up the fight for Mosul as they defend the city against a major offensive.

The spokesman for the US-led anti-Isil coalition could not confirm the Russian claim.

The report of al-Baghdadi's death comes as Isil suffers major setbacks in which it has lost wide areas of territory and both of its strongholds - Mosul in Iraq and Syria's Raqqa. Both are under attack by various groups fighting under the cover of airstrikes by the US-led coalition.

US officials and Syrian activists say many commanders have fled Mosul and Raqqa in recent months for Mayadeen, a remote town in the heart of Syria's Isil-controlled Euphrates River valley near the Iraqi border.

The claim of al-Baghdadi's possible demise comes nearly three years to the day after he declared himself the leader of an Islamic caliphate in Iraq and Syria. If confirmed, it would mark a major military success for Russia, which has conducted a military campaign in support of Syrian President Bashar Assad since September 2015.

The Defence Ministry said the air raid on May 28 also killed about 30 mid-level militant leaders and about 300 other fighters that it said were gathered to discuss the group's withdrawal from Raqqa. The US is offering a $25m (€22.3m) reward for information leading to his death or capture.

Alexei Pushkov, the head of the committee for information policies at the upper house of the Russian parliament, tweeted that "if confirmed, al-Baghdadi's death will be a powerful blow to Isil."

Irish Independent

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