A top Kurdish counter-terrorism official said on Monday he was 99 per cent sure that Islamic State leader AbuBakr al-Baghdadi was alive and located south of the Syrian city of Raqqa, after reports that he had been killed.
“Baghdadi is definitely alive. He is not dead. We have information that he is alive. We believe 99 percent he is alive,” Lahur Talabany told Reuters in an interview.
“Don’t forget his roots go back to al Qaeda days in Iraq. He was hiding from security services. He knows what he is doing.”
Iraqi security forces have ended three years of Islamic State rule in the Iraqi city of Mosul, and the group is under growing pressure in Raqqa, both strongholds in the militants’ crumbling self-proclaimed caliphate.
Still, Talabany said Islamic State was shifting tactics despite low morale and it would take three or four years to eliminate the group.
After defeat, Islamic State would wage an insurgency and resemble al-Qaeda on “steroids”, he said.
The future leaders of Islamic State were expected to be intelligence officers who served under former Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein, the men credited with devising the group’s strategy.
Russia’s military claimed on June 16 that it may have killed the Islamic State group leader in an airstrike in late May.
The country’s defence ministry said it was verifying reports that Al-Baghdadi was killed on the southern outskirts of Syria’s Raqqa on May 28 along with other several senior commanders from the extremist group.
However, there was no independent confirmation and previous reports of Al-Baghdadi’s death have turned out to be false.
Operation Inherent Resolve, the U.S. military’s operational name for its actions against the Islamic State, or ISIS, in Iraq and Syria, said it could not confirm the report.
Russia’s defenve ministry said Al-Baghdadi was killed as he attended a meeting to discuss ISIS’s withdrawal from Raqqa, its de facto capital.
“The strike, carried out by Su-35 and Su-34 jets, destroyed high-ranking commanders of the terrorist group, who were part of the so-called military council of the ISIS, and also some 30 middle ranking field commanders and up to 300 militants who were their bodyguards,” the ministry said.
ISIS has been clinging on to Raqqa as well as Iraq’s second-largest city Mosul despite U.S.-backed coalition forces’ attempts to eject the group from both places.
The U.S. State Department’s Reward for Justice program has a 25 million dollars reward for information leading to his capture or death.
Under his leadership, ISIS has also launched or taken credit for numerous terrorist attacks in Asia, Europe and the United States.
Al-Baghdadi is believed to have been born in 1971, in Samara, Iraq, and rose to prominence through his leadership of al-Qaeda in Iraq, one of the militant groups from which ISIS emerged.
He has been extremely careful to reveal very little about his true identity or whereabouts.
Earlier in January, reports surfaced he has severely wounded in an airstrike near Syria’s border with Iraq.
The reports were never corroborated.(Reuters/NAN)