Russian army says it may have killed ISIL chief Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi
MOSCOW // The Russian army on Friday said it was seeking to verify whether ISIL chief Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi was killed after its warplanes hit the group’s leaders in a night raid in Syria last month.
The United States said it could not confirm Baghdadi’s death.
The army said Sukhoi jets carried out a 10-minute strike on May 28 at a location near Raqqa, where ISIL leaders had gathered to plan a pullout by its terrorists from the group’s stronghold.
“Senior commanders of the military groups of the so-called IS military council, 30 mid-ranking field commanders and up to 300 militants who provided security for them were eliminated,” the army said.
“According to information which is being checked through various channels, the leader of ISIL Ibrahim Abu Bakr Al Baghdadi was also present at the meeting and was eliminated by the strike,” it said.
“We cannot confirm these reports at this time,” said Operation Inherent Resolve US army colonel Ryan Dillon.
The strike occurred between 9.35pm to 9.45pm GMT on May 27 following confirmation of the meeting by a drone. Those killed included the so-called emir of Raqqa and the ISIL security chief, the Russian army said.
Russia informed the United States about the attack.
The US-led coalition battling ISIL said it could not confirm whether Baghdadi had been killed.
Elusive Iraqi-born leader of ISIL is the world’s most-wanted man. He has not been seen in public since proclaiming himself “caliph” in the Iraqi city of Mosul three years ago.
His group has earned global notoriety for imposing a hardline form of Sunni Islam. Its bastion of Raqqa became a magnet for would-be extremists from other countries.
Baghdadi has been rumoured wounded or killed a number of times.
He has been nicknamed The Ghost as he has been reportedly seen around the Syrian-Iraqi border but his whereabouts have never been confirmed.
In March, US secretary of state Rex Tillerson declared that Baghdadi’s death was imminent as “nearly all” of his deputies were dead and “it is only a matter of time” before the ISIL chief himself met the same fate.
In September 2015, Russia launched a bombing campaign in Syria in support of Syrian president Bashar Al Assad. Its efforts against ISIL extremists are separate from those of the US-led coalition, which supports Syrian rebels.
The Russian military said earlier this month that on May 29, its planes struck ISIL convoys attempting to leave Raqqa from the south and heading toward Palmyra, killing 80 militants.
On May 31, Russia struck ISIL contingents located near Palmyra, firing guided missiles from warships deployed off the Syrian coast.
Russia has supported Syrian armed forces, which entered the province of Raqqa on June 6 and advanced since then in the west and south-west of the province.
US-backed Syrian Democratic Forces have been pushing into Raqqa on three fronts, last Tuesday breaking into the ISIL bastion from the east for the first time.
Iraqi forces are meanwhile battling ISIL in Mosul, where the extremists are confined to just a few neighbourhoods in the west of the city.
The fighting in Raqqa has caused alarm at the United Nations, whose investigators this week said civilian loss of life was “staggering” due to “excessive” air strikes.
* Agence France-Presse
Published: June 16, 2017 04:00 AM