Islamic State leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi was not among those killed in an Iraqi airstrike on a convoy of top officials from the extremist organization, local residents said Sunday.
Baghdad on Sunday announced that the Iraqi air force had hit a convoy of IS leaders en route to a meeting in Karbala on Saturday. But local residents and hospital workers later said Baghdadi’s body did not appear to be among the dead, Reuters reported.
Following the strike, Baghdad said the air raid had hit Baghdadi’s convoy, but could not confirm if the jihadist leader had been killed.
“The Iraqi air force carried out a heroic operation targeting the convoy of the criminal terrorist Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi,” the security forces said in a joint statement.
“His health status is unknown,” the statement said, adding that the leader of the Islamic State was “transported in a vehicle” after the strike.
The meeting place was also struck in the operation and several IS leaders already gathered there were killed and wounded, it said.
In Washington, a US military official said: “We’ve seen the Iraqi statement about al-Baghdadi but have no info that confirms it.”
The health and whereabouts of the Islamic State, who has a $10-million bounty on his head, are the subject of constant speculation.
He was reported wounded multiple times over the past year and his apparent survival has only added to the mystery surrounding the IS chief.
Iraqi security sources have previously said Baghdadi had been injured or killed in past strikes, but such claims were either never verified or later denied.
According to an official Iraqi government document, Baghdadi was born in Samarra in 1971 and has four children with his first wife — two boys and two girls born between 2000 and 2008.
An Iraqi intelligence report indicates Baghdadi, who it says has a PhD in Islamic studies and was a professor at Tikrit University, also married a second woman, with whom he had another son.
Baghdadi apparently joined the insurgency that erupted after the 2003 US-led invasion of Iraq, at one point spending time in an American military prison in the country’s south.
The IS group, considered the most violent in modern jihad, has developed a formidable propaganda machine to support its operations and recruitment.
But Baghdadi has only appeared once in public since taking the helm of the movement, in June 2014 at a mosque in the northern Iraqi city of Mosul.
In his sermon, he asked all Muslims to obey him and join the caliphate.