MS Risk Blog

Russia Military States it May Have Killed IS Leader

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On 16 June, Russia’s Defense Ministry disclosed that it was checking information that a Russian air strike near the Syrian city of Raqqa may have killed Islamic State (IS) leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi in late May.

In a statement, the Ministry disclosed that the airstrike was launched after Russian forces in Syria received intelligence that a meeting of IS leaders was being planned. The statement indicated, “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 went on to say that “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 Russian Defense Ministry statement further disclosed that the strike is believed to have killed several other senior leaders of the group, as well as around thirty field commanders and up to 300 of their personal guards, adding that IS leaders had gathered at the command centre, in a southern suburb of Raqqa, in order to discuss possible routes for the militants’ retreat from the city. So far the US-led coalition that is fighting IS has disclosed that it could not confirm the Russian report that Baghdadi may have been killed. The Russian military however has stated that the United States was informed in advance about the place and time of the strike.

While the world awaits confirmation on whether IS’ elusive leader has been killed or not, Rami Abdulrahman, director of the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, has already cast doubt on the report, stating that according to his information, Baghdadi was located in another part of Syria at the end of May, when the strike occurred. Abdulrahman disclosed that “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.” When questioned what Baghdadi would hae been doing in that located, he stated, “it is reasonable that Baghdadi would put himself between a rock and a hard place of the (US-led) coalition and Russia?”

Born Ibrahim al-Samarrai, Baghdadi is a 46-year-old Iraq who broke away from al-Qaeda in 2013, just two years after the capture and killing of the terrorist group’s leader Osama bin Laden. 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.

IS fighters are close to being defeated in the twin capitals – Mosul in Iraq and Raqqa in Syria – of the group’s territory. Russian forces support the Syrian government, which is fighting against IS mainly from the west, while a US-led coastline supports Iraqi government forces who are fighting IS from the east.