The leader of the Islamic State militant group (ISIS) Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi is dead, the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights (SOHR) told Newsweek on Tuesday.
The monitoring group, which relies on an extensive network of sources in Syria, said it had "confirmed information" that Baghdadi had been killed. "We have confirmed [his death] from information from one of our activists in Deir Ezzor, they confirmed that Baghdadi has died," Rami Abdelrahman, director of SOHR, tells Newsweek by phone.
He said the activist received the information from the “second in line” of ISIS’s leadership in the eastern Syrian province.
He could not confirm how the ISIS leader had been killed but said that it happened near the Iraqi border. "The last three months he was living in east Deir Ezzor," he said.
The claim could not be independently verified by Newsweek. The U.S.-led coalition said in a statement: "We cannot confirm this report, but hope it is true. We strongly advise ISIS to implement a strong line of succession, it will be needed."
Last month, the Russian Defense Ministry said it may have killed Baghdadi in a May airstrike near the eastern Syrian city of Raqqa. SOHR said at the time that the Russian claim was fabricated, and the U.S.-led coalition said it could not confirm his death, citing a lack of evidence.
Russian military officials told the Interfax news agency that a large gathering of around 300 fighters and around 30 commanders died in the May 28 airstrike by Su-35 and Su-34 jets near Raqqa, the largest city under the group’s control in Syria. The raid lasted from 12.35 a.m. to 12.45 a.m., Interfax said.
Baghdadi's death and severe injuries have been reported many times since he declared the Islamic State's caliphate from the pulpit of Mosul's Al-Nuri Mosque in July 2014. Footage released in June appeared to show that ISIS had destroyed the mosque using explosives as Iraqi forces edged closer to capturing the symbolic compound.
Iraqi officials believed Baghdadi had fled Mosul before an Iraqi-led offensive to recapture the city began, hiding in the ISIS-controlled areas straddling the Iraqi-Syrian border. He is one of the most wanted extremists in the world and the U.S. government put a $25 million bounty on his head for any information leading to his capture or death.
ISIS controls much of Deir Ezzor province despite its losses elsewhere in its self-styled caliphate in Iraq and Syria. The Iraqi government has declared the northern Iraqi city of Mosul, which ISIS had controlled since June 2014, liberated after a nine-month offensive.
A Kurdish-Arab alliance is now besieging the eastern Syrian city of Raqqa, and has taken control of more than a quarter of all of the city's neighborhoods. The U.S.-led coalition has supported both offensives with air power and special forces advisers.
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