On Sunday, the Iraqi air force claimed it was able to target the convoy of ISIS chief Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi with an air strike. The status of the self-proclaimed “caliph” is unknown.
Baghdadi’s convoy is said to have crossed the Syrian border into Iraq, bound for a meeting of high-ranking Islamic State leaders, when the Iraqis attacked on Saturday afternoon. The meeting was also hit, and several ISIS officers were injured or killed, according to Iraqi media reports related by AFP.
As for Baghdadi, he was supposedly transported from the site of the attack in a vehicle, but his condition was not known.
“We’ve seen the Iraqi statement about al-Baghdadi but have no info that confirms it,” said a U.S. military official quoted by AFP.
There have been several previous instances in which Baghdadi was thought to have been injured or killed, one of which occurred in the same area as Saturday’s air strike. A BBC analyst noted that “military statements from the Iraqi authorities on the results of actions against jihadi or insurgent leaders have been unreliable in the past, and are treated with some caution.”
His whereabouts are generally mysterious, and he has not made a confirmed public appearance since appearing at a mosque in the Iraqi city of Mosul last year. CNN cites U.S. intelligence analysis that suggests Baghdadi spends most of his time in Syria, but it’s not implausible that he could travel to a high-level strategy meeting in Iraq.
A report at the Sydney Morning Herald says that according to local hospitals and residents of the Karbala area, several senior ISIS leaders were indeed killed by the air strike, but al-Baghdadi was not among them.
However, the Herald optimistically notes that the official Islamic State Twitter account was “hedging its bets” by defiantly declaring that the “caliphate” would survive, even if the “caliph” did not.