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IS chief reported dead after jihadists lose Mosul

Wednesday, July 12, 2017

Beirut: Islamic State group chief Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi was reported dead today, a day after Iraq declared it had driven the jihadists 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 jihadist group after its loss of Mosul, which Iraqi Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi 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 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 neighbouring 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 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.

There have been persistent rumours 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 fighting the jihadist group in Syria and Iraq said at the time it could not confirm whether the Russian strike had killed Baghdadi.

With a USD 25 million US bounty on his head, Baghdadi has kept a low profile and was rumoured to move regularly throughout IS-held territory in the area straddling Iraq and Syria.

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