IS leader al-Baghdadi ‘probably still alive’ claims US army commander

Washington: Islamic State group leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi is still alive according to a top US military commander, who contradicted Russia’s claims that it probably killed him months ago.

“Do I believe he’s alive? Yes,” said Army Lt. Gen. Stephen Townsend, who commands the coalition forces fighting IS in Iraq and Syria.

At first, Townsend said his belief stemmed from a lack of evidence he had seen that al-Baghdadi was dead. But he added: “There are also some indicators in intelligence channels that he’s alive.”

Townsend did not elaborate on the intelligence. Townsend said US and coalition forces are actively searching for al-Baghdadi. If they find him, they probably will kill him rather than capture him, he said.

A good guess about where al-Baghdadi is hiding, Townsend said, would be the so-called Middle Euphrates River Valley, stretching approximately from the city of Deir el-Zour in eastern Syria to the town of Rawa in western Iraq.

He said this area is shaping up to be Islamic State’s “last stand” after it was driven out of nearly all of northern Iraq.

Russian officials said in June there was a “high probability” that al-Baghdadi died in a Russian airstrike on the outskirts of Raqqa in Syria, a month earlier.