The US-led coalition battling ISIS said on Friday it had no concrete evidence on whether the militant group’s leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi was dead or alive but played down any significance he might have on the battlefields of Iraq and Syria.
“We certainly know that if he is still alive, we expect that he is not being able to influence what is currently happening in Raqqa or Mosul or overall in the ISIS as they continue to lose their physical caliphate,” coalition spokesman US Army Colonel Ryan Dillon told a Pentagon briefing, using an acronym for the militant group.
“That said, we don’t have any concrete evidence on whether or not he’s dead either.”
Meanwhile, Interfax news agency quoted the head of the defense committee in Russia's upper parliamentary house as saying on Friday that the likelihood that Baghdadi has been killed is close to 100 percent.
Russia’s defense ministry said a week ago it believed it may have killed Baghdadi when one of its air strikes hit a gathering of senior ISIS commanders on the outskirts of the Syrian city of Raqqa.
But armed groups fighting in the region and US officials say they have no evidence that Baghdadi was killed, and many regional officials have said they are skeptical about the information from Moscow.
Committee head Viktor Ozerov was quoted as saying the defense ministry would not have released information about Baghdadi’s death if it believed it could be later proved incorrect.
Also read: Has Russia really killed al-Baghdadi?
“I think this information is close to 100 percent,” Interfax quoted Ozerov as saying. “The fact that Islamic State has still not shown him anywhere also adds to our confidence that al-Baghdadi has been killed.”
Baghdadi has frequently been reported killed or wounded since he declared a caliphate from a mosque in Mosul in 2014, after leading his fighters on a sweep through northern Iraq.
His death would be one of the biggest blows yet to the militant group, which is trying to defend its shrinking territory in Syria and Iraq against forces backed by regional and global powers.