Moscow claims it may have killed IS chief Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi

Moscow says its jets may have killed leader of world’s most notorious terror organisation in a May airstrike. If true it would be a major propaganda coup for the Russians.

Moscow says its jets may have taken out the leader of the world’s most notorious terror organisation in an airstrike in May.

Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, leader of the Islamic State group, may have been killed with several of his top henchmen in a Russian strike late last month, the Russian Defence Ministry claimed early on Friday. The ministry said verification is “ongoing”.

The ministry said Su-34 and Su-35 warplanes attacked an IS military council meeting south of the group’s de-facto capital of Raqqa in northern Syria on May 28 and that the US was informed in advance of the raid.

If true, this would be a major propaganda coup for the Russians, who intervened in Syria to prop up the regime of dictator Bashar al-Assad, unleashing their devastating arsenal primarily on moderate rebels and their civilian backers, and to a lesser extent on extremist groups operating in the country.

The intervention proved crucial in ensuring the survival of Syria’s embattled regime and armed forces, who are also backed by Iranian-trained militias from Lebanon and Iraq.

Most of the Russian war effort in Syria has focused on opponents of Assad. However, Moscow made sure to score symbolic victories against IS from time to time to justify its intervention in the war-ravaged nation, helping to recapture the iconic ancient city of Palmyra (Tadmur) from the extremists, twice, to much fanfare.

“According to the information which is now being checked via various channels, ISIS leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, who was eliminated by the airstrike, was also present at the meeting,” Russia’s RIA news agency quoted the ministry as saying, using another acronym for the group.

The US-led coalition fighting IS in Syria and Iraq has said it cannot yet confirm Baghdadi’s death, according to a Reuters news alert.

No comment has come from IS’ own ‘news agency’ Amaq.

Who is Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi?

This is not the first time Baghdadi has been rumoured dead, and once again reports of his demise may be exaggerated.

A character shrouded in mystery, Baghdadi’s real name may be Ibrahim Awwad Ibrahim al-Badri, and he may have been born in 1971 in Samarra, an ancient Iraqi city in the so-called Sunni Triangle north of Baghdad.

He may have been a cleric in a mosque in the city around the time of the US-led invasion in 2003. Reports suggest he was radicalised during the four years he was held at Camp Bucca, a US prison in southern Iraq where many al-Qaeda commanders were detained.

He emerged as the leader of al-Qaeda in Iraq, one of the groups that later became Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIS) in 2010 and then Islamic State (IS) in 2014, and rose to prominence during the failed merger with al-Qaeda-linked Nusra Front in Syria (now Jabhet Fateh al-Sham).

He did not swear allegiance to the leader of the al-Qaeda franchise, Ayman al-Zawahiri, who had urged IS to focus on Iraq and leave Syria to al-Nusra.

Baghdadi and his fighters split with al-Qaeda and pursued an ultraviolent form of extremism that included bringing back slavery, engaging in genocide on non-Muslim minorities and Shia Muslims, and applying an extreme version of Islamic capital punishments, involving live immolation and mass beheading.

The group and lone wolves inspired by it have claimed numerous terror attacks from the US to the Philippines, via Europe and the Middle East.

In 2014, following his group’s rapid capture of Mosul and vast swathes of western Iraq, he declared himself from the pulpit of al-Nuri Mosque in the Old City of Mosul the new caliph, leader of the entire Muslim nation, a title abolished in 1924 with the fall of the Ottoman Empire.