Russia says ‘highly likely’ ISIS leader was killed in airstrike

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Russia’s deputy foreign minister says it is “highly likely” that Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, the leader of the Islamic State group (ISIS), was killed in a Russian airstrike in Syria late last month, though there is no definitive confirmation.

Russia’s Defense Ministry believes al-Baghdadi and dozens of other ISIS fighters may have been attending a meeting in the southern suburb of Raqqa on May 28, when the Russian Air Force carried out an airstrike in that area.

“According to the Russian Defense Ministry, it is highly likely that Daesh (ISIS) leader al-Baghdadi was eliminated as a result of a Russian Aerospace Forces strike on the terrorists’ command post,” Deputy Foreign Minister Oleg Syromolotov told the RIA news agency.

Syromolotov claimed the death of al-Baghdadi had been “verified through various channels,” but Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov added that there was no definitive proof that the leader of ISIS had been killed. The group itself has not commented on the reports and there is no proof of life.

Al-Baghdadi has been reported dead by a number of sources over the years, but all turned out to be inaccurate, though it’s unusual for such a claim to be made by senior government officials. Russia first reported last week that it was investigating whether al-Baghdadi had been killed.

The Islamic State group has suffered a number of losses over the past few months. Turki al-Bin’ali, he group’s chief cleric and a close confidant of al-Baghdadi, was killed in a U.S. airstrike in Syria on May 31, and ISIS militants on Wednesday destroyed an iconic mosque in Iraq where al-Baghdadi declared a caliphate in 2014.

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