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Russia claims Bakr al-Baghdadi is dead

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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 28 May, the agencies cited the ministry as saying.

In the statement, the army said Sukhoi jets carried out a 10-minute night-time strike at a location near Raqqa, where IS leaders had gathered to plan a pullout by militants from the group’s stronghold.

“Senior commanders of the military groups of the so-called IS military council, 30 mid-ranking field commanders and up to 300 militants who provided security for them were eliminated,” it said.

“According to information which is being checked through various channels, the leader Abu-Bakr al-Baghdadi was also present at the meeting and was eliminated by the strike.”

The US was informed about the attack, the statement added.

Last public message

The report is the latest on the demise of Baghdadi. Iraqi state media has suggested several times that Baghdadi has either been killed or gravely injuried in fighting in northern Iraq. None of the reports have been substantiated.

Baghdadi’s last public message came at the start of the battle for the liberation of the Iraqi city of Mosul, in November 2016, when he expressed confidence in victory.

“This … total war and the great jihad that the Islamic State is fighting today only increases our firm belief, God willing, and our conviction that all this is a prelude to victory,” said a voice purporting to be that of Baghdadi.

“Do not retreat … Holding your ground with honour is a thousand times easier than retreating in shame.

“To all the people of Nineveh, especially the fighters, beware of any weakness in facing your enemy.” The audio message did not refer to Mosul specifically.

Baghdadi was believed by intelligence services to have been moving between Raqqa and Mosul in recent months.

His only public appearance was at the declaration of his “Islamic State” at the Nour mosque in Mosul in July 2014, shortly after his militants took the city.

iraqi forces are now within striking distance of that mosque.

Rami Abdulrahman, the director of the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, cast doubt on the report Baghdadi may have been killed. He said that according to his information, Baghdadi was located in another part of Syria at the end of May.

“The information is that as of the end of last month Baghdadi was in Deir Ezzor, in the area between Deir Ezzor and Iraq, in Syrian territory,” he said

“Is it reasonable that Baghdadi would put himself between a rock and a hard place of the (US-led) coalition and Russia?”

[source: Middle East Eye]
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