Contradictory reports have emerged over the fate of ISIS leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi after US-led air strikes in at least two locations in Iraq on Friday night.
While the US said it had no information to indicate Baghdadi had been hit, Baghdad state television cited reports that he had been wounded.
Major Curtis Kellogg, spokesman at the US military’s Central Command, said they had no information to corroborate press reports that Baghdadi was wounded in either the strike on the city of Mosul in the north or the one on al-Qaim to the west.
“We conducted two airstrikes near al-Qaim on Friday evening, destroying an ISIS-armoured vehicle and two ISIS checkpoints, but we’re not aware of another gathering of ISIS leaders in al-Qaim,” he said.
Iraqi officials had on Sunday said the ISIS leader was wounded in an Iraqi airstrike in Qaim in the western Anbar province of Iraq as he was meeting militants. There have been no comments on the matter on jihadi websites.
On Sunday, Iraqi Defence Minister said on Facebook that Baghdadi’s deputy was killed and that the self-described caliph was injured. In response, Abu Muhammad al-Adnani, said to be the Islamic State’s spokesman, dispatched his own update.
“Perhaps you suspected that the Caliphate ended with martyrdom of the Caliph,” The Jerusalem Post quoted him as saying. “I assure the (Islamic) nation that the Emir Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi is well thank god, and I wish him a speedy recovery” — the implication being that he was at least injured.
A member of Anbar province’s security committee said he had heard unconfirmed reports that Baghdadi had been wounded and moved to Syria. Several other Anbar officials gave contradictory reports on Baghdadi’s fate.
Baghdadi’s fighters seized much of northern Iraq five months ago in a lightning offensive.
If he is dead…
To remain the self-anointed ‘caliph’, his body needs to be intact. The Washington Post quoted an expert as saying, “If he loses a limb, his credibility suffers. If he dies, it would toss the concept of legitimacy of the ‘Caliphate’ on its head.”
If he is alive…
The already reclusive leader may retreat further into the shadows. He is said to be careful about his security, especially after his predecessor Abu Musab al-Zarqawi and other ISIS leaders died in US bombings. Reports say that when commanders are called to meet him, they are told that he is in the group but isn’t identified. Other reports talk of how he wears masks when he meets prisoners.
If it is all unclear
The confusion helps bolster the Baghdadi legend, helps ISIS.