IS leader Baghdadi 'may have been killed by Russia'

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While it has yet to be confirmed, news is spreading about the possibility of ISIS leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi being one of the casualties of a Russian airstrike last month.

In an e-mailed statement, Army Col. Ryan Dillon said Friday: "We can not confirm these reports at this time".

"The Russians probably received inaccurate information in this regard", he said.

The ISIS attacks killed Yehya Mohammed Shehadeh, a commander from the tribal forces operating with the SDF.

ISIS militants have nearly been defeated in the two acclaimed territorial capitals of the group in Syria and Iraq.

"His death has been reported so often that you have to be cautious till a formal Daesh statement comes", a European security official said, using an Arabic acronym for the group.

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In a statement posted on Facebook by the Ministry, Russian forces in Syria carried out an airstrike following intelligence information that an Islamic State leader's meeting is being scheduled.

If confirmed, his death would mark a major military success for Russian Federation, which has conducted a military campaign in support of Syrian President Bashar Assad since September 2015.

He clarified, "So far, I have no 100 percent confirmation of the information that Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi has been killed".

"Russia has a long track record of issuing fake claims and deliberate misinformation during its campaign in Syria", said Charles Lister, a senior fellow at the Washington-based Middle East Institute.

Baghdadi's whereabouts have been unknown for some time, although he was believed to be in Mosul in Iraq before a US-led coalition began an effort to reclaim the city in October 2016.

Al-Hashimi said the other Isis leader, al-Beljiki, was unlikely to have been in Syria at the time of the attack. Other media reports have previously claimed he had been killed or critically injured by US-led coalition air strikes.

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The claim of al-Baghdadis demise comes almost three years after he had declared himself the leader of an Islamic caliphate in Iraq and Syria, from a historic mosque in Mosul.

Al-Baghdadi is a nom de guerre for a man identified as Ibrahim Awwad Ibrahim Ali al-Badri al-Samarrai.

The ministry said the strike came as IS leaders gathered to discuss the group's withdrawal from Raqqa, the group's de facto capital.

The Russian military sent drones to monitor the area and then dispatched a group of Su-34 bombers and Su-35 fighter jets to hit the Islamic State gathering.

Director of the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights Rami Abdel-Rahman told Asharq Al-Awsat that at the time of the Russian airstrike, all first-rank ISIS officials had already fled Raqqa. The U.S. has a $25 million bounty for information leading to his death or capture.

Information for this article was contributed by Bassem Mroue, Lolita C. Baldor and Robert Burns of The Associated Press.

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