The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, a London-based activist group, claimed on Tuesday it has “confirmed information” that Islamic State leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi has been killed.
Rami Abdulrahman, director of the Observatory, said the information comes from “leaders, including one of the first rank who is in Syria, in the Islamic State in the eastern countryside of Deir al-Zor.”
He went on to say his sources did not specify when or how Baghdadi was killed, but they said he was alive and active in the Deir al-Zor area within the past three months. The Russians claimed to have killed Baghdadi in an airstrike on the city of Raqqa in June.
The Abdulrahman announcement was reported by Reuters, which says it cannot independently verify the claim. A U.S. military spokesman in Iraq also said the claim could not be verified as of yet. Kurdish and Iraqi officials said they had no solid information about Baghdadi’s condition. The Islamic State itself has yet to make an announcement of its leader’s death on social media.
The American spokesman in Iraq, Army Colonel Ryan Dillon, offered a priceless comment on the possible demise of the caliph: “We hope it is true and we strongly advise ISIS to implement a strong line of succession. It will be needed.”
“We take any report of this nature with a large dose of salt. We will verify it. We will look at the intelligence available,” Dr. Sebastian Gorka, deputy adviser to President Trump and former national security editor for Breitbart News, said in a Fox News interview on Tuesday.
“We will give a statement when we have the requisite facts,” Gorka promised.
However, on Tuesday, the UK Independent cited Turkish security officials saying they have received reports of Baghdadi’s death, purportedly in the Russian airstrike on Raqqa two months ago.
The same article quotes Syrian opposition fighters and activists operating near the Turkey-Syria border who said Baghdadi was killed in the town of Tal Afar, which served as the Islamic State’s alternate headquarters in Iraq after they were defeated in Mosul. According to these accounts, a new leader for the Islamic State will be announced soon.
Fox News cites Iraq’s Al-Sumaria News for a “very brief statement” from ISIS that Baghdadi was dead, and a power struggle has erupted within the Islamic State, purportedly including a purge of hardcore Baghdadi supporters.
Another activist group in Syria, Raqqa Is Being Slaughtered Silently, reported Tuesday that its sources inside ISIS said Baghdadi is not dead.
There have been few confirmed sightings of Baghdadi since he declared the Islamic State “caliphate,” with himself as “caliph,” from the Grand al-Nuri Mosque in the city of Mosul in July 2014. ISIS destroyed the mosque on the eve of its defeat in Mosul, presumably to deny Iraqi and coalition forces the opportunity to take victory photos of the recaptured building. The mosque was 845 years old at the time of its destruction.
The Islamic State has occasionally circulated photos of Baghdadi, such as images of him speaking to children at a mosque in Fallujah, Iraq, published in February 2016, but the date when these photos were taken was always uncertain.
ISIS has also strenuously objected to any concession by its leaders that Baghdadi might be dead. In the case of jihadi imam Abu Qutaiba, the strenuous objection was rendered by setting him on fire in the streets of Tal Afar. His execution in early July was seen by some analysts as a sign of an internal power struggle within ISIS.