Syria’s state television is reporting that the leader of the Self-declared Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS) Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi has been killed in airstrikes in the city of Raqqa, the de facto capital of ISIS in Syria.
Other pro-Syrian government media outlets have also reported Baghdadi’s demise, but many commentators are skeptical, saying it could turn out to be false as this is not the first time it has been reported that the world’s most wanted terrorist — with a $25million bounty on his head — has been killed.
In June last year, it was also speculated he escaped to Syria as the Iraqi army continued to bombard the city of Mosul. Baghdadi’s sprawling desert mansion had been found abandoned amid claims he is still alive and on the run. Later, the news spread that he had been killed in an air raid in Syria by the US-led coalition.
Then in December, Pentagon ‘believed’ the ISIS leader was alive. Pentagon spokesman Peter Cook told CNN that the U.S. military is planning and hoping to eliminate Baghdadi at the opportune time:
“We do think Baghdadi is alive and is still leading ISIL and we are obviously doing everything we can to track his movements. If we get the opportunity, we certainly would take advantage of any opportunity to deliver him the justice he deserves. We’re doing everything we can. This is something we’re spending a lot of time on.”
In March, U.S. and Iraqi intelligence sources claimed the loss of ground in Mosul might be proof that Baghdadi had left Mosul and is now hiding out in the desert.
According to the latest report, Baghdadi was pounded with heavy artillery in the ISIS stronghold of Raqqa. It is unclear who carried out the strike, but the reports appear to suggest Syrian government forces are behind the attack. However, neither the Syrian government nor the official media wing of ISIS has confirmed the news.
Syria’s independent news outlet, Raqqa24, reports that an airstrike in Raqqa killed at least seven civilians on Saturday. Despite confirming that an airstrike did occur in Raqqa on Saturday, the outlet made no mention of Baghdadi’s death.
Baghdadi was born in Samarra in Iraq in 1971. He became a hardened extremist following the U.S-led invasion of Iraq in 2003. He was arrested by American forces and spent a few years in jail, but was later freed. After gaining his freedom, Baghdadi became a powerful leader of ISIS and was credited with masterminding large-scale terrorist operations.