IS leader Baghdadi dead, says Syrian watchdog

Beirut: A London-based Syrian war monitor on Tuesday said it had “confirmed information” that Islamic State (IS) leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi has been killed.

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

“We learned of it today but we do not know when he died or how,” he was quoted as saying by The Telegraph.

Russia’s Defence Ministry said in June that it may have killed Baghdadi when one of its airstrikes hit a gathering of IS commanders on the outskirts of the Syrian city of Raqqa, but the US said it could not corroborate the death and Western and Iraqi officials had been sceptical.

Russia said the airstrike took place on May 28 and claimed that a number of key IS men, including Baghdadi, were killed. However, they offered no proof.

The Pentagon said in a statement on Tuesday that “the US has no information to corroborate reports”.

Iraqi news agency al-Sumaria News also reported that the IS has declared Baghdadi dead. The report said that the extremist group said it will soon announce a successor to Baghdadi.

“Daesh organisation (IS) circulated a brief statement through its media in the (IS-held) town of Tal Afar in the west of Mosul, confirming the killing of its leader al-Baghdadi without giving further details,” Iraqi news agency Al-Sumaria News said.

“Daesh said that the name of a new caliph (Islamic top leader) will be announced soon, calling on the (IS) militants to continue their steadfastness in the redoubts of the caliphate and not being dragged behind the sedition,” the report said.

Baghdadi declared himself the head of the terror group’s so-called caliphate, spanning across Syria and Iraq during his first and only appearance from the Grand al-Nouri Mosque in Mosul in 2014.

The last time Baghdadi released an audio message was on November 3, 2016, when he issued a statement urging his followers to continue to fight for Mosul.

The news came a day after Iraqi Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi formally declared Mosul liberated from the IS after nearly nine months of fierce fighting to dislodge the extremist militants from their last major stronghold in Iraq.

Mosul, 400 km north of Iraq’s capital Baghdad, came under IS control in June 2014 when government forces abandoned their weapons and fled, enabling IS militants to take control of parts of Iraq’s northern and western regions.