Russia’s Defense Ministry claimed it had “no reliable information” the Islamic State leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi died on Sunday, following the revelation by President Donald Trump that U.S. forces cornered him into detonating a suicide bomb.
President Trump thanked, among others, Russian forces for their cooperation in an operation Moscow claimed it knew nothing about.
The Russian government previously claimed it killed al-Baghdadi in an airstrike in 2017, which most dismissed as Russia provided no proof and did not claim to have DNA evidence that among those killed was the ISIS chief.
“Russia’s defense ministry has no reliable information about an operation by US forces in the Turkey-controlled part of the Idlib de-escalation zone aimed at another extermination of Islamic State leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi,” defense ministry spokesman Igor Konashenkov said on Sunday, according to Russia’s TASS news agency. “We know nothing about any assistance to the flight of US aircraft to the Idlib de-escalation zone’s airspace in the course of this operation.”
TASS added that Konashenkov argued that “contradictory details … make one doubt that such an operation ever took place.”
The spokesman claimed that Russia had no information of American or Russian airstrikes in the region – outside of Idlib, northwest Syria – as President Trump had stated. He added that al-Qaeda elements hostile to ISIS were active in the region.
“This organization has always unhesitatingly killed Islamic State fighters on the spot as key rivals for power in Syria,” Konashenkov said. “Bearing this in mind, the US or other participants in the operation should at least provide direct evidence that the former Islamic State leader had been safely staying on a territory controlled by the ‘Syrian Al Qaeda’ (also outlawed in Russia).”
The Russian Foreign Ministry referred to al-Baghdadi’s death as “yet another” one, holding on to Russian claims that Moscow was responsible for the “caliph”‘s death two years ago.
The Kremlin did not add to the foreign ministry statement, TASS noted.
The Turkish government’s Anadolu news agency noted on Monday that Russian television outlets were towing the government’s line, “taking U.S. claims of striking Islamic State targets with a grain of salt.” According to Anadolu, Russian coverage of the operation condemned President Trump for using “emotionally charged” language to celebrate the death of al-Baghdadi, responsible for multiple genocides against ethnic and religious minorities in Syria and Iraq.
Also following Moscow’s lead is coverage of the raid in Iranian state media, which has parroted what it claims are “local media sources affiliated to the Syrian dissidents.”
The SITE Intelligence Agency noted on Sunday that among those doubting the veracity of Trump’s claims are al-Baghdadi’s followers, as well. Rita Katz, the agency’s director, said on Twitter that “[p]ro-IS groups and supporters online are already disputing the reports- likening news of the death/capture of Baghdadi to a ‘broken record,’ and calling on other supporters to ‘persevere and prepare, because you will be hearing this a lot.'”
President Trump announced al-Baghdadi’s death on Sunday morning. Al-Baghdadi was the “caliph” of the declared Islamic State, which at its peak contained a population of millions spanning Syria and Iraq, including the latter’s second-largest city, Mosul. ISIS fighters attempted genocide against the Christians, Kurds, Yazidis, Shiite Muslims, and other minorities of the region and welcomed an influx of Sunni jihadists from all over there world, which entered the “caliphate” mostly through the porous Turkish border.
“Last night, the United States brought the world’s number one terrorist leader to justice,” Trump said. “Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi is dead. He was the founder and leader of ISIS, the most ruthless and violent terror organization anywhere in the world.”
Trump announced that al-Baghdadi died “whimpering and crying and screaming all the way,” detonating a suicide bomb that killed three of his children. Only one American, a canine officer, was harmed in the operation. A U.S. official confirmed Monday that the dog is healthy and has returned to service.
Trump thanked the Russian government for its help in executing the operation, as well as Turkey, Syria, Iraq, and allied Syrian Kurdish forces. The Kurds confirmed the kill on Sunday, noting that they had worked with Washington for five months to plan al-Baghdadi’s capture.