Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi may have been killed, with reports that the ISIS leader was the target of an air strike in western Iraq that left several others dead.
The strike took place on Saturday, with Iraq announcing that its air force located a meeting of ISIS members and a convoy traveling to the meeting that included Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi.
“Iraqi air forces have bombed the convoy of the terrorist Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi while he was heading to Karabla to attend a meeting with [ISIS] commanders,” the Iraqi military said in a statement [via ABC.net].
“The location of the meeting was also bombed and many of the group’s leaders were killed and wounded. The fate of murderer al-Baghdadi is unknown and he was carried away by a vehicle. His health condition is still unclear,” the military said.
If Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi was killed in the air strike, it would represent a major victory against ISIS. Baghdadi is the undisputed leader of the group, and his leadership has helped them storm across Iraq and Syria, taking and holding many key areas.
This is not the first time that a report claimed Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi was killed. Late last year, another report claimed that the ISIS leader was killed in a U.S. air strike in the city of Mosul. This report even came with what appeared to be photographic evidence, as a photo reportedly showing al-Baghdadi’s body spread on social media. The story was also reported by Iraqi News.
Bakr al-Baghdadi has also helped ISIS seize power among other Islamist militant groups, surpassing even al Qaeda for key resources and recruits.
“The true heir to Osama bin Laden may be ISIS leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi,” wrote The Washington Post‘s David Ignatius.
al-Baghdadi has also been a mobile leader, moving and working in Iraq and Syria. He has only appeared once since ISIS took power, giving a sermon in 2014 calling on people to obey the caliphate.
“For the last 10 years or more, [al-Qaeda leader Ayman al-Zawahiri ] has been holed up in the Afghanistan-Pakistan border area and hasn’t really done very much more than issue a few statements and videos,” Richard Barrett, a former counterterrorism expert with British foreign intelligence service, told Agence France-Presse. “Whereas Baghdadi has done an amazing amount — he has captured cities, he has mobilized huge amounts of people, he is killing ruthlessly throughout Iraq and Syria…. If you were a guy who wanted action, you would go with Baghdadi.”
Baghdadi has also secured key allegiances across the region, stretching even into Libya, Egypt, and Saudi Arabia.
There are some disputes as to whether Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi was killed in the air strike. Some locals noted that eight ISIS leaders were killed, but al-Baghdadi was not believed to be one of them.
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The United States military did not comment on the latest report, and a militant contacted by ABC.net said that the group would continue fighting even if he had been killed.
“Even if he was martyred then it will not affect Islamic State,” the fighter said. “We will lose a leader but there are a thousand Baghdadis. Every minute a leader is born in the Islamic State.”
While Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi may not be dead in the most recent attack, he has been wounded several other times in other strikes. The fact that he has never been officially dead has added to the mystery of his health and led some to believe that ISIS may be using decoys in the same way Saddam Hussein did during his rule of Iraq.
[Image via YouTube]