BEIRUT — Russia claimed Friday it killed the leader of the Islamic State group in an airstrike targeting a meeting of IS leaders just outside the group’s de facto capital in Syria.
The Russian Defense Ministry said Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi was killed in a Russian strike in late May along with other senior group commanders.
There had been previous reports of al-Baghdadi being killed but they did not turn out to be true. The IS leader last released an audio on Nov. 3, urging his followers to keep up the fight for Mosul as they defend the city against a major offensive that began weeks earlier.
The spokesman for the U.S.-led anti-IS coalition said in a statement Friday he could not confirm the Russian claim.
The report of al-Baghdadi’s death comes as IS suffers major setbacks in which they have lost wide areas of territory and both of their strongholds — Mosul in Iraq and Syria’s Raqqa. Both are under attack by various groups who are fighting under the cover of airstrikes by the U.S.-led coalition.
U.S. officials and Syrian activists say many commanders have fled Mosul and Raqqa in recent months for Mayadeen, a remote town in the heart of Syria’s IS-controlled, Euphrates River valley near the Iraqi border.
The claim of al-Baghdadi’s possible demise also comes nearly three years to the day after he declared himself the leader of an Islamic caliphate in Iraq and Syria, from a historic mosque in Mosul.
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