ISIS Caliph Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi has been either dead or mortally wounded for much of the past several years, according to various rumors and unconfirmed reports. Today, the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights claims to have “confirmed” information that he actually is dead at this point.
This is likely related to last month’s claims by the Russian military that they thought they might have killed him in an airstrike in Syria, The US scoffed at those claims at the time, and continues to express doubts about Baghdadi’s death, saying they haven’t been able to confirm anything of the sort.
Which may be true, given Baghdadi’s notoriously illusive nature, but may also amount to sour grapes from Pentagon officials who had claimed they’d killed or at least maimed Baghdadi themselves several times in the past, only for him to pop up awhile later, apparently totally unharmed. Pentagon officials did, however, add that they have no evidence he’s alive, either.
Turkish officials familiar with the situation in northern Syria appear to be given considerable credence to the Syrian Observatory’s claims, saying they heard from Turkish-backed rebel factions that Baghdadi is believed to be dead.
If his death proves real, it raises immediate questions about the succession plan within ISIS, as well as the potential impact that his death would have on the organization, particularly coming amid ongoing territorial losses.
Past false reports of Baghdadi’s death didn’t come with such losses, and it was generally accepted by analysts that ISIS, which has been able to simply plug new people into important positions whenever somebody was killed, probably wouldn’t miss a beat with Baghdadi’s death. Obviously now there will be more hope that ISIS will be forced onto its heels, though the group’s resilience remains as true now as it was back then.
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