Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, leader of the Isis terror group, is almost certainly still alive, a Kurdish official has said.
Counter-terrorism official Lahur Talabany made the comment days after the London-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights (SOHR) said an Isis senior member confirmed Baghdadi had been killed in Raqqa, Syria.
However, Talabany told Reuters on Monday 17 June that he was 99% sure Baghdadi was alive and located in the southern part of Raqqa.
“Baghdadi is definitely alive. He is not dead. We have information that he is alive. We believe 99% he is alive,” he said.
“Don’t forget his roots go back to al-Qaeda days in Iraq. He was hiding from security services. He knows what he is doing.”
In June, Russia claimed that it may have killed Baghdadi during one of its air strikes in Raqqa, which Isis captured in 2014 and made its de facto capital city. It was not the first time that Baghdadi, who has rarely made any public appearance since announcing the creation of Isis in 2014, had been reported dead.
In one of the most recent instances, Syrian state TV said in June that Baghdadi had been killed while he was caught in a heavy artillery barrage in Raqqa. In March, US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson vowed to assassinate Baghdadi, claiming that most of his deputies had been wiped out.
Isis once controlled large swathes of territory in Syria and Iraq but is gradually losing ground as it comes under pressure from joint military offensives. ,
Raqqa has witnessed intensified fighting in recent weeks after the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) – an alliance of Kurdish and Arab militias supported by a US-led coalition – started an offensive to recapture the city from Isis.
Since the offensive began on 6 June, the SDF has recaptured several territories. However, the UN has also warned that US air strikes conducted in support of the offensive are endangering a “staggering number” of civilians.
The latest rumours of Baghdadi’s death emerged as Iraqi officials announced the liberation of Mosul, a city Isis captured in 2014, and one of the key hubs of its self-declared caliphate.
In June, the Iraqi troops’ advancement into Mosul’s Old City prompted Isis militants to destroy the al-Nuri Mosque, which had been used by Baghdadi to deliver his declaration of the establishment of the caliphate.