If true, this will be a source of extreme embarrassment for Russia.
Russia touted his death as a de facto testament to their ‘lethality’ and ‘superiority’.
U.S. Defense Secretary Jim Mattis says he believes that the leader of the extremist Islamic State (IS) group, Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, is still alive.
“I think Baghdadi’s alive”, Mattis told reporters Friday at the Pentagon.
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.
Earlier Friday, Nicholas Rasmussen, the director of the U.S. National Counterterrorism Center, told a security forum in Aspen that the intelligence community also has seen no evidence of the ISIS leader’s death.
“We know a good bit”. “We just don’t have information that would confirm his death or demise”.
American officials had been reluctant to confirm or deny the claim, but Mattis’ comments are the strongest yet against Moscow’s assertion.
“The new issue of Islamic State’s weekly publication, al-Naba, contains several references to al-Baghdadi which are meant to convey he remains alive”, according to Michael S. Smith II, a terrorism analyst who specializes in the influence operations of IS and al-Qaida, in an email earlier this week.
With a $25 million USA bounty on his head, Baghdadi has kept a low profile but was rumored to move regularly throughout IS-held territory in Iraq and Syria.
He is believed to have been born in Iraq, where he was detained by US-led coalition forces in 2004 but released after being viewed as not a high-level threat.