Moscow claims its forces may have killed Islamic State leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi in an air strike in Syria last month, but Washington says it can’t corroborate the death and Western and Iraqi officials are sceptical.
The secretive Islamic State leader has frequently been reported killed or wounded since he declared a caliphate to rule over all Muslims from a mosque in Mosul in 2014, after leading his fighters on a sweep through northern Iraq.
If the report does prove true, it would be one of the biggest blows yet to Islamic State, which is trying to defend its shrinking territory against an array of forces backed by regional and global powers in both Syria and Iraq.
But in the absence of independent confirmation, some US officials said US agencies were sceptical of the report. Several Iraqi security officials said Iraq was doubtful as well.
“His death has been reported so often that you have to be cautious till a formal Daesh statement comes,” a European security official said, using an Arabic acronym for the group.
US Navy Captain Jeff Davis, a Pentagon spokesman, said: “We have no information to corroborate those reports.”
A senior Trump administration official noted “a number of infirmities” in the reports, which have given US officials reason to question their accuracy.
“Some of those infirmities suggested that this happened at the end of May and that there were upwards of 300 or more soldiers killed in that strike,” said the official, who asked not to be identified.
“A strike of that size and that claim that would have happened that long ago without any knowledge is something that made me curious,” the official added.
The Russian Defence Ministry said on its Facebook page that it was checking information that Baghdadi was killed in the strike on the outskirts of Raqqa in Syria, launched after Russia received intelligence about a meeting of Islamic State leaders.