IS leader ‘is still alive’

Counter­ter­ror­ism of­fi­cial ‘99% sure’

The Witness - - NEWS -

SULAIMANIA (Iraq) — A top Kur­dish counter­ter­ror­ism of­fi­cial said yes­ter­day he was 99% sure that Is­lamic State leader Abu Bakr al­Bagh­dadi was alive and lo­cated south of the Syr­ian city of Raqqa, de­spite re­ports that he had been killed.

“Bagh­dadi is def­i­nitely alive. He is not dead. We have in­for­ma­tion that he is alive. We be­lieve 99% he is alive,” Lahur Tal­a­bany told Reuters in an in­ter­view.

“Don’t for­get his roots go back to Al­Qaeda days in Iraq. He was hid­ing from se­cu­rity ser­vices. He knows what he is do­ing.”

The se­cre­tive Is­lamic State leader has fre­quently been re­ported killed or wounded since he climbed up to the pul­pit of a mosque in Mo­sul in 2014 and de­clared a caliphate with him­self the leader of all Mus­lims.

Af­ter lead­ing his fight­ers on a sweep through north­ern Iraq, Bagh­dadi at­tempted to cre­ate a self­sus­tain­ing modern­day caliphate in parts of Iraq and Syria.

He is now a man on the run, but still a cun­ning foe, said Tal­a­bany, who as part of the in­ter­na­tional coali­tion against Is­lamic State has been at the fore­front of ef­forts to track Bagh­dadi down. “He is not an easy fig­ure. He has years of ex­pe­ri­ence in hid­ing and get­ting away from the se­cu­rity ser­vices,” Tal­a­bany said.

“The ter­ri­tory they con­trol right now, still to this day, is very tough ter­ri­tory. It is still not the end of the game for [IS]. Even though they have lost al­most all of Mo­sul and they are get­ting ready to lose Raqqa as well.”

Iraqi se­cu­rity forces have ended three years of Is­lamic State rule in the Iraqi city of Mo­sul, and the group is un­der grow­ing pres­sure in Raqqa — for­mer strongholds in the mil­i­tants’ crum­bling caliphate.

Tal­a­bany said Is­lamic State was now shift­ing tac­tics de­spite low morale and it would take three or four years to elim­i­nate the group as it takes to the moun­tains and deserts to stage hit­and­run at­tacks and un­leash sui­cide bombers.

“They are get­ting ready for a dif­fer­ent fight I think. We have a lot tougher days ahead of us than peo­ple think — Al­Qaeda on steroids,” said Tal­a­bany.

“We saw why they were smarter. AlQaeda never con­trolled any ter­ri­tory. They will be smarter.”

Numer­ous re­ports sug­gest­ing that Bagh­dadi had been killed have raised ques­tions about who might re­place him as head of a di­verse group com­prised of Iraqis and other Arabs as well as hard­core for­eign fight­ers.

Iraqi in­tel­li­gence of­fi­cers who served un­der Sad­dam Hus­sein have been de­scribed as the mil­i­tary strate­gists in­stru­men­tal in cre­at­ing an Is­lamic State reign of ter­ror.

Tal­a­bany said it was hard to know which top Bagh­dadi aides were alive or dead, but he be­lieves most of the lead­er­ship is in Syria, south of Raqqa.

A younger gen­er­a­tion of Sad­dam’s for­mer al­lies were ex­pected to take key po­si­tions.

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