IS chief Bagh­dadi re­ported dead

Kuwait Times - - FRONT PAGE -

Is­lamic State group chief Abu Bakr Al-Bagh­dadi was re­ported dead yes­ter­day, a day af­ter Iraq de­clared it had driven the mil­i­tants from their one-time big­gest strong­hold of Mo­sul. The Syr­ian Ob­ser­va­tory for Hu­man Rights, a long­time mon­i­tor of the coun­try’s con­flict, said it had in­for­ma­tion from top IS lead­ers con­firm­ing Bagh­dadi’s death. The re­port could not be in­de­pen­dently ver­i­fied and Bagh­dadi has been re­ported dead sev­eral times.

But if con­firmed, his death would mark an­other dev­as­tat­ing blow to the ex­trem­ist group af­ter its loss of Mo­sul, which Iraqi Prime Min­is­ter Haider AlAbadi said Mon­day had been re­taken from IS af­ter a gru­elling months-long cam­paign. “Top tier com­man­ders from IS who are present in Deir Ez­zor prov­ince have con­firmed the death of Abu Bakr Al-Bagh­dadi, emir of the Is­lamic State group, to the Ob­ser­va­tory,” the Bri­tain­based mon­i­tor­ing group’s di­rec­tor Rami Ab­del Rah­man told AFP.

“We learned of it to­day but we do not know when he died or how.”

Deir Ez­zor, in east­ern Syria, re­mains largely un­der IS con­trol even as the group is los­ing ter­ri­tory else­where in the coun­try and in neigh­bor­ing Iraq. Ab­del Rah­man said Bagh­dadi “was present in east­ern parts of Deir Ez­zor prov­ince” in re­cent months, but it was un­clear if he died in the area or else­where. There was no of­fi­cial con­fir­ma­tion or de­nial of the news on so­cial me­dia plat­forms used by IS.

The US-led coali­tion fight­ing the group in Syria and Iraq said it could not ver­ify the Ob­ser­va­tory’s in­for­ma­tion. “We can­not con­firm this re­port, but hope it is true,” said coali­tion spokesman Colonel Ryan Dil­lon.

“We strongly ad­vise ISIS to im­ple­ment a strong line of suc­ces­sion, it will be needed,” he added, us­ing a dif­fer­ent acro­nym for IS. Asked if the coali­tion had a process un­der­way to ex­am­ine such claims, Dil­lon said: “We have pro­fes­sion­als who use all in­for­ma­tion at their dis­posal to ver­ify re­ports be­fore we would con­firm any al­le­ga­tions.”

US Pres­i­dent Don­ald Trump yes­ter­day tweeted “Big wins against ISIS!” It was not im­me­di­ately clear if that was a ref­er­ence to the Mo­sul re­cap­ture, Bagh­dadi’s re­ported death, or both. There have been per­sis­tent ru­mors of Bagh­dadi’s death in re­cent months, and Rus­sia’s army said in mid-June that it was seek­ing to ver­ify whether it had killed the IS chief in a May air strike in Syria. The US-led coali­tion said at the time it could not con­firm whether the Rus­sian strike had killed Bagh­dadi.

With a $25 mil­lion US bounty on his head, Bagh­dadi has kept a low pro­file and was ru­mored to move reg­u­larly through­out IS-held ter­ri­tory in the area strad­dling Iraq and Syria. The 46-year-old Iraqi-born leader of IS has not been seen since mak­ing his only known pub­lic ap­pear­ance as “caliph” in 2014 at the Grand Mosque of Al-Nuri in Mo­sul. IS de­stroyed the highly sym­bolic site be­fore Iraqi forces could reach it as they pushed the group from Mo­sul.

Iraqi forces launched their cam­paign in Oc­to­ber to re­take Mo­sul, which was seized by the ji­hadists dur­ing the mid-2014 of­fen­sive that saw them take con­trol of large parts of Iraq and Syria. Abadi an­nounced in Mo­sul on Mon­day that the cam­paign had ended with the de­feat of IS in the city, hail­ing “a vic­tory over dark­ness, a vic­tory over bru­tal­ity and ter­ror­ism”.

The cost of vic­tory has been enor­mous: Much of Mo­sul in ru­ins, thou­sands dead and wounded and nearly half the city’s pop­u­la­tion forced from their homes. In Mo­sul’s Old City, where build­ings lie crum­bling and burned-out cars and other de­bris choke the streets, se­cu­rity forces were still searching for re­main­ing IS fight­ers. “What we are do­ing to­day is just comb­ing the area and clear­ing it of sleeper cells,” Staff Lieu­tenant Gen­eral Sami Al-Aridhi, a se­nior com­man­der in Iraq’s elite Counter-Ter­ror­ism Ser­vice (CTS), said yes­ter­day. “There are groups that are hid­ing in shel­ters,” but they sur­ren­der or are killed, Aridhi said.

Since the Mo­sul op­er­a­tion be­gan in Oc­to­ber, 920,000 peo­ple have fled their homes, only a frac­tion of whom have re­turned, ac­cord­ing to the United Na­tions. Rights group Amnesty In­ter­na­tional yes­ter­day ac­cused Iraqi forces and the US-led coali­tion of ex­pos­ing civil­ians to “re­lent­less and un­law­ful at­tacks” in west Mo­sul. “Pro-govern­ment forces launched bar­rages of in­dis­crim­i­nate or dis­pro­por­tion­ate at­tacks us­ing ex­plo­sive weapons un­suit­able for such a densely pop­u­lated ur­ban area,” Amnesty said. — AFP

— AFP

MO­SUL: This file grab taken from a pro­pa­ganda video re­leased on July 5, 2014 al­legedly shows the leader of the Is­lamic State (IS) group Abu Bakr AlBagh­dadi, aka Caliph Ibrahim, ad­dress­ing wor­ship­pers at a mosque in this north­ern Iraqi city.

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