The strike is believed to have killed several other senior leaders of the group as well as around 30 field commanders and up to 300 of their personal guards
Russia’s Defence Ministry said on Friday that it was checking information on whether a Russian air strike near the Syrian city of Raqqa may have killed Islamic State leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi in late May.
The air strike was launched after the Russian forces in Syria received intelligence that a meeting of Islamic State leaders was being planned, the ministry said in a statement posted on its Facebook page.
“On May 28, after drones were used to confirm the information on the place and time of the meeting of ISIS leaders, between 00:35 and 00:45, Russian air forces launched a strike on the command point where the leaders were located,” the statement said.
“According to the information which is now being checked via various channels, also present at the meeting was Islamic State leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, who was eliminated as a result of the strike,” the ministry said.
The US-led coalition fighting Islamic State said it could not confirm the Russian report that Baghdadi may have been killed.
The strike is believed to have inflicted substantial damage on the terror group, killing several other senior leaders of the group, as well as around 30 field commanders and up to 300 of their personal guards, the Russian defence ministry statement said.
The ISIS leaders had gathered at the command centre, in a southern suburb of Raqqa, to discuss possible routes for the militants’ retreat from the city, the statement said.
The United States was informed in advance about the place and time of the strike, the Russian military said.
Islamic State fighters are close to defeat in the twin capitals of the group’s territory, Mosul in Iraq and Raqqa in Syria.
Russian forces support the Syrian government which is fighting against Islamic State mainly from the west, while a US-led coalition supports Iraqi government forces fighting against Islamic State from the east.
The last public video footage of Baghdadi shows him dressed in black clerical robes declaring himself the leader of the Islamic caliphate from the pulpit of Mosul’s medieval Grand al-Nuri mosque back in 2014. There have been a number of reports of Baghdadi’s death in the past.
Born Ibrahim al-Samarrai, Baghdadi is a 46-year-old Iraqi who broke away from Al Qaeda in 2013, two years after the capture and killing of the group’s leader Osama bin Laden. He was captured by the US in 2004 from Falluja in Iraq and was considered at the time a low-level member of Al Qaeda. He was released in 2009 and within a year, he became the leader of Iraq’s Al Qaeda affiliate and led a renewed campaign of bombings and assassinations. Al Qaeda later severed ties with Baghdadi, holding him responsible for the death of too many civilians. The US has announced a reward of $25 million for information leading to his capture.
Rami Abdulrahman, director of the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, cast doubt on the report that Baghdadi may have been killed. He said that according to his information, Baghdadi was located in another part of Syria at the end of May.
“The information is that as of the end of last month Baghdadi was in Deir al-Zor, in the area between Deir al-Zor and Iraq, in Syrian territory,” he said by phone.
Questioning what Baghdadi would have been doing in that location, he said: “Is it reasonable that Baghdadi would put himself between a rock and a hard place of the (US-led) coalition and Russia?”
With inputs from Reuters