Baghdad (IraqiNews.com) Islamic State’s supreme leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi is still alive in Syria along with other group runaway leaders, a newspaper said Tuesday, marking the latest episode of conflicting speculations about the notorious militant’s survival.
London-based Al-Quds Alarabi said Baghdadi was still alive and currently seeks refuge at the countryside of the Syrian city of Deir Azzour. “Recent news about his death confused him with another leader who was killed weeks earlier near the Syrian-Iraqi borders,” the paper said in its report.
“Baghdadi is probably hiding at a village between Boukamal and Mayadin in Deir Azzour countryside..That is the region that had become a refuge for most of IS’s leaders who withdrew from cities which they lost in Iraq and Syria,” the report said.
Al-Quds Al-Arabi said Baghdadi was still playing a commanding role, though communications between him and other leaders has become more difficult in the recent period, especially with outstanding Iraqi leaders close to him announced dead, such as Ayad al-Karghouli, who was killed in Mosul, and Ayad al-Jumaili, whose survival remains uncertain though Iraq declared his death twice.
According to the newspaper, al-Jumaili had left Mosul along with Baghdadi, a few months earlier, heading to Tal Afar, Baaj and then into Syria’s Deir Azzour.
Earlier this month, Abu ali al-Basri, head of the Iraqi Interior Ministry’s intelligence and counterterrorism, said Baghdadi was still alive in Syria, but remained outside the city of Raqqa, Islamic State’s base there.
Iraqi news reports, and later several international media outlets, have recently circulated news quoting unnamed sources telling that IS had admitted its leader’s death in a statement, with alleged plans to name a successor.
“I think Baghdadi’s alive … and I’ll believe otherwise when we know we’ve killed him,” U.S. Defense Secretary John Mattis told Pentagon reporters on Friday. “We are going after him, but we assume he is alive.”
Russia said last month it was 100% confident of his death, and the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said it was also certain of the veracity of the reports.
Baghdadi’s only open appearance was in June 2014, when he ascended the pulpit of the Grand Nuri Mosque in western Mosul’s Old City to proclaim an “Islamic Caliphate” in Iraq and Syria. He disappeared later and never showed up again, with occasional reports making speculations about his survival and whereabouts.
Iraq declared victory over IS in the group’s largest stronghold in Mosul on July 11th, and a U.S.-backed Kurdish Syrian militia is advancing against the group’s base in Syria’s Raqqa.