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Syrian Observatory says it has ‘confirmed information’ that Daesh chief is dead

By Reuters - Jul 11,2017 - Last updated at Jul 11,2017

This file photo combination of two handout pictures released by the US Department of State’s Bureau of Diplomatic Security (left) and by Iraqi ministry of interior allegedly shows photographs taken at an unknown location of Abu Bakr Al Baghdadi, the leader of the Daesh group (AFP photo)

CAIRO/BEIRUT — The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights told Reuters on Tuesday that it had “confirmed information” that the Daesh terror group leader Abu Bakr Al Baghdadi has been killed.

The report came just days after the Iraqi army recaptured the last sectors of the northern Iraqi city of Mosul, which Baghdadi’s forces overran almost exactly three years ago.

Russia’s defence ministry said in June that it might have killed Baghdadi when one of its air strikes hit a gathering of Daesh commanders on the outskirts of the Syrian city of Raqqa. But Washington said it could not corroborate the death and Western and Iraqi officials have been sceptical.

Reuters could not independently verify Baghdadi’s death.

“[We have] confirmed information from leaders, including one of the first rank who is Syrian, in Daesh in the eastern countryside of Deir Ezzor,” said Rami Abdulrahman, the director of the British-based war monitoring group.

In Iraq, US Army Colonel Ryan Dillon, spokesman for the US-led coalition fighting Daesh, said he could not confirm the news.

Abdulrahman said activists working with him in Deir Ezzor had been told by the Daesh sources that Baghdadi had died, but not when or how. The sources said Baghdadi had been present in the eastern countryside of Syria’s Deir Ezzor province in the past three months.

The Pentagon said it had no information to corroborate the reports. Kurdish and Iraqi officials also had no immediate confirmation.

Baghdadi’s death has been announced many times before, but the observatory has a record of credible reporting on the Syrian conflict. Daesh-affiliated websites and social media feeds have so far said nothing.

The death of Baghdadi, who declared a caliphate governed by Islamic law from a mosque in Mosul in 2014, would be one of the biggest blows yet to the extremist group, which is trying to defend shrinking territory in Syria and Iraq.

The United States put up a $25 million reward for his capture, the same amount as it had offered for Al Qaeda leader Osama Bin Laden and his successor Ayman Al Zawahri. It is not yet known if anybody will claim the bounty.

Daesh leaders killed in Iraq and Syria since the US-led coalition began its air strikes include Abu Ali Al Anbari, Baghdadi’s deputy; the group’s “minister of war”, Abu Omar Al Shishani, a close military adviser to Baghdadi; and Abu Mohammad Al Adnani, one of its most prominent and longest-serving leaders.

 

Family of preachers

 

Baghdadi was born Ibrahim Awad Al Samarrai in 1971 in Tobchi, a poor area near Samarra, north of the capital Baghdad.

He joined the jihadist insurgency in 2003, the year of the US-led invasion of Iraq, and was captured by the Americans. They released him about a year later, thinking he was a civilian agitator rather than a military threat.

It was not until July 4, 2014, that he seized the world’s attention, climbing the pulpit of Mosul’s medieaval Al Nuri Mosque in black clerical garb during Friday prayers to announce the restoration of the caliphate. 

Thousands of volunteers flocked into Iraq and Syria from around the world to become “Jund Al Khilafa”, or soldiers of the caliphate. 

At the height of its power two years ago, Daesh ruled over millions of people in territory running from northern Syria through towns and villages along the Tigris and Euphrates river valleys to the outskirts of the Iraqi capital Baghdad.

It claimed or inspired attacks in dozens of cities including Paris, Nice, Orlando, Manchester, London and Berlin, and in nearby Turkey, Iran, Saudi Arabia and Egypt.

In Iraq, it staged dozens of attacks targeting Shiite Muslim areas. A truck bomb in July 2016 killed more than 324 people in a crowded area of Baghdad, the deadliest attack since the 2003 invasion of Iraq. 

 

The loss of Mosul and the siege of Raqqa, Daesh’s capital in Syria, by a US-backed, Kurdish-led force stripped Baghdadi of the trappings of caliph and made him a fugitive in the desert border area between the two countries.

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