Reuters CAIRO/BEIRUT (Reuters) — The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights told Reuters on Tuesday it had “confirmed information” that Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant militant group leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi had been killed.
The report came just days after the Iraqi Army recaptured the last sectors of the northern Iraqi city of Mosul, which Baghdadi’s forces overran almost exactly three years ago.
Russia’s Defense Ministry said in June that it might have killed Baghdadi when one of its air strikes hit a gathering of ISIL commanders on the outskirts of the Syrian city of Raqqa. Washington said it could not corroborate the death and Western and Iraqi officials have been skeptical.
Reuters could not independently verify Baghdadi’s death.
“[We have] confirmed information from leaders, including one of the first rank who is Syrian, in the Islamic State in the eastern countryside of Deir al-Zor,” said Rami Abdulrahman, the director of the Britain-based war monitoring group.
In Iraq, U.S. Army Colonel Ryan Dillon, spokesman for the U.S.-led coalition fighting ISIL, said he could not confirm the news.
The top U.S. general in Iraq later said the coalition had no concrete information.
“Despite all the helpful reports to us from every source imaginable, I’m unable to confirm or deny either where he is, or whether he is alive or dead. Let me just say for the record, my fervent hope is it is the latter,” Lieutenant General Stephen Townsend told a news briefing.
Abdulrahman said activists working with him in Deir al-Zor had been told by ISIL sources that Baghdadi had died, but not when or how. The sources said Baghdadi had been present in the eastern countryside of Syria’s Deir al-Zor Province in the past three months.
The Pentagon said it had no information to corroborate the reports. Kurdish and Iraqi officials also had no immediate confirmation.
Baghdadi’s death has been announced many times before, but the Observatory has a record of credible reporting on the Syrian conflict. ISIL-affiliated websites and social media feeds have so far said nothing.
The death of Baghdadi, who declared a caliphate governed by Islamic law from a mosque in Mosul in 2014, would be one of the biggest blows yet to the jihadist group, which is trying to defend shrinking territory in Syria and Iraq.