The Russian military is currently checking whether their airstrike in the Syrian desert killed Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, self-declared caliph of the Islamic State
The Defense Ministry issued a statement in which it said that the Russian air force struck a meeting of Islamic leaders on May 28th, outside the city of Raqqa, Syria, possibly killing Mr. Baghdad.
Mr. Baghdad is one of the world’s most wanted terrorists. On the other hand, the statement was written with a lot of caution, suggesting that the Russian military is uncertain about whether it had killed Mr. Baghdad or not.
“According to information which we are checking through various channels, the leader of the Islamic State, Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi was at the meeting and the strike destroyed him,” the statement said.
Raqqa has been under attack by American-backed Kurdish and Arab forces. However, they have been closing in during recent weeks. An American-led coalition of Western and Arab air forces is also attacking Raqqa.
On the other hand, the statement did not say anything about the coordination with foreign forces in the strike. More than that, is was unclear whether the Russian military had any information regarding the terrorist leader being present at the gathering, or only found out after the strike.
In other words, the purpose of the statement may also be a tactical and intended move to assists its forces in Syria. A claim to have killed the terrorist leader, whether or not there is strong evidence about it, raises doubt among ISIS fighters that their commander is alive.
It is strongly believed that Russia has an extensive intelligence operation that targets the Islamic State. Moreover, it makes use of the large numbers of former Soviet Muslims who have joined the group.
For a while, Mr. Baghdad has not been seen publicly. The last time he addressed his followers was in a recording released in December 2015. His silence since that moment has led to continuous rumors that he had been either wounded or killed.