Fate of ISIS leader unknown after US-led air strikes
IRAQ was yesterday investigating whether Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS) group chief Abu Bakr Al-Baghdadi was killed in air strikes by American-led coalition warplanes targeting the group's leaders.
The death of the elusive Al-Baghdadi would be a major victory for the coalition of countries carrying out air strikes against ISIS and aiding Iraqi forces fighting to regain large areas of Iraq that the militants have overrun.
The announcement of the strikes came after United States President Barack Obama unveiled plans to send up to 1,500 more US troops to Iraq to advise and train the country's forces, deepening Washington's commitment to the open-ended war against ISIS.
Air strikes against a gathering of leaders of the extremist group near Mosul destroyed a 10-vehicle convoy on Friday and military officials are working to determine if Al-Baghdadi was present, Tom Crosson, a US Defence Department spokesman, said in an e-mail message.
Al Sumaria, a pro-government news service, reported that two Al-Baghdadi associates were killed by coalition air strikes in Al-Qaim, near the border with Syria, without mentioning the group's leader. Dubai-based Al Arabiya television, citing Arab tribal sources, reported that Al- Baghdadi may have been seriously injured in the raid.
"Until now, there is no accurate information available," a senior Iraqi intelligence official said when asked whether Al-Baghdadi had been killed.
"The information is from unofficial sources and was not confirmed until now, and we are working on that," the official said without specifying what the initial reports indicated.
The aim of the US-led strikes was to squeeze the group further and ensure it had "increasingly limited freedom to manoeuvre, communicate and command", said US Central Command spokesman Patrick Ryder.
Nicholas Houghton, chief of staff of the British armed forces, told BBC television yesterday: "I can't absolutely confirm that Al-Baghdadi has been killed.
"Probably it will take some days to have absolute confirmation."
Washington has offered a US$10 million (S$12.9 million) reward for his capture, and some analysts say he is increasingly seen as more powerful than Al-Qaeda chief Ayman Al-Zawahiri.