Russia’s deputy foreign minister told state media Thursday that it is highly likely Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, the ISIS leader, was killed in a Russian airstrike near Raqqa, Syria, on May 28.
Oleg Syromolotov told Sputnik the “information is now verified through various channels.” The remarks are similar to those made June 16 by the Russian Defense Ministry, which said Baghdadi was among more than 300 ISIS militants, including mid-level field commanders, who were killed as a result of Russian airstrikes near Raqqa, the city that serves as the terrorist group’s de-facto capital.
As I wrote at the time:
Baghdadi has been reported dead several times previously, but Russia has rarely made such claims since its military involvement in the Syrian civil war began in September 2015. The report, which was published in Sputnik, the state-run news service, would be a devastating blow to the group that has steadily lost ground in Iraq and Syria in recent years—pushed back by U.S.-led airstrikes, as well as ground offensives by Iraqi, Kurdish, Shia, and other forces in the region. Russia’s involvement in Syria has also hurt the group, which still provides potent reminders of its ability to carry out deadly attacks in Western cities.
The U.S. and Iraq were skeptical of the Russian claims. Last week U.S. Navy Captain Jeff Davis, a Pentagon spokesman, said, “We have no information to corroborate those reports.” Reuters cited a senior Trump administration official as saying a number of claims in the Russian reports—including the number of people reported dead—gave the U.S. pause.