Senior commanders of Islamic State were killed in an Iraqi airstrike near the country’s border with Syria but the group’s leader, Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, was not among them, hospital sources and residents have told the Reuters news agency.
The Iraqi military claimed in a statement earlier that the raid had hit Baghdadi’s convoy as it travelled to a meeting in Karabla, a town in the western province of Anbar.
The whereabouts of Baghdadi, who has declared himself the leader of an Isis-controlled caliphate in Iraq and Syria, have been unknown for long periods.
Karabla is located on the Euphrates river, about three miles from the border with Syria. The statement did not make clear when the strike was carried out.
“Iraqi air forces have bombed the convoy of the terrorist Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi while he was heading to Karabla to attend a meeting with Daesh commanders,” an Iraqi air force statement said, using the Arabic acronym for Isis.
Iraqi security sources have claimed in the past that Baghdadi has been injured or killed in strikes, but those claims have never been verified or were later denied. In April it was reported that he had been injured in a strike, but months later a voice recording claiming to be Baghdadi was released in an attempt to dispel the rumour.
This time, a statement was released by the “war media cell”, a structure that provides updates on the fight against Isis and speaks for the interior and defence ministries as well as the paramilitary Popular Mobilisation forces.
It said the operation was conducted in coordination with Iraq’s interior ministry intelligence services and the joint operation command centre that includes military advisers from the US-led coalition. (The Guardian)