Russia’s military claims it may have killed IS leader Baghdadi

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(Sipa via AP Images)

Russia claimed Friday it killed the leader of the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria group during an airstrike last month.

The Russian Defence Ministry said Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi was killed in a Russian strike in late May along with other senior group commanders.

If confirmed, it would mark a major military success for Russia, which has conducted a military campaign in support of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad since September 2015.

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

The ministry added that it had warned the U.S. of the coming strike. The U.S.-led coalition fighting ISIS said it could not confirm the Russian report that Baghdadi may have been killed.

The ministry said that among other militant leaders killed in the raid were ISIS leaders Abu al-Khadji al-Mysri, Ibrahim al-Naef al-Khadj and Suleiman al-Shauah.

Russian forces support the Syrian government which is fighting against ISIS mainly from the west, while a U.S.-led coalition supports Iraqi government forces fighting against ISIS from the east.

The last public video footage of Baghdadi shows him dressed in black clerical robes declaring his caliphate from the pulpit of Mosul’s medieval Grand al-Nuri mosque back in 2014.

Rami Abdulrahman, director of the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, cast doubt on the report 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 [U.S.-led] coalition and Russia?”