Russian Federation said on Friday its forces may have killed Islamic State leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi in an air strike in Syria last month, but Washington said it could not corroborate the death and Western and Iraqi officials were skeptical, Reuters reported on Friday.
The air strike was launched near the Syrian city of Raqqa after the Russian forces received intelligence that a meeting of ISIS leaders was being planned, the ministry said in a statement posted on its Facebook page.
Two other top figures, Islamic State spokesman Abu Mohammed al-Adnani, and Abu Ali al-Anbari, the extremist group's leading finance official, were killed in 2016.
The Russian statement said that the strike targeted ISIS leaders as they met to discuss their exit from the city through the so-called southern corridor.
But several sources and experts ruled out Moscow's claims and said that Baghdadi was not in Raqqa when the Russian airstrike occured. Russian Federation says it is verifying whether it killed Baghdadi.
Did Islamic State leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi die in an airstrike last May? Al-Hayali was killed in an August 2015 airstrike by the U.S.in Iraq.
The latest report of his death comes amid major setbacks for IS, having lost significant territory on both sides of its so-called caliphate in Syria and Iraq.
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Al-Baghdadi's death has been reported numerous times over the years. Both attacks would have occurred after al-Baghdadi's alleged killing.
Russian Federation supports the Syrian government of President Bashar al-Assad, which is fighting against Islamic State fighters, one front in a multi-sided civil war.
Baghdadi - a nom de guerre rather than his real name - is believed to have been born in Samarra, north of Baghdad, in 1971.
"A strike of that size and that claim that would have happened that long ago without any knowledge is something that made me curious", the official added.
Rami Abdulrahman, director of the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights monitoring group, was quoted by Reuters news agency as saying he had information that Baghdadi was in another part of Syria at the end of May and was not killed.
"Baghdadi is present in Iraq and not in Syria", he told Asharq Al-Awsat, saying ISIS is now run by a 12-member leadership council that practically leads the terrorist organization.
Information for this article was contributed by Bassem Mroue, Lolita C. Baldor and Robert Burns of The Associated Press.
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