Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, the elusive leader of the brutal Islamic State terror group, has been killed, the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said Tuesday afternoon, confirming reports earlier in the day in Iraqi media, and possibly bringing to a close a hunt for one of the most wanted men on the planet.
Those reports, which cited an IS statement, provided no details regarding the circumstances of Baghdadi’s death.
“Top tier commanders from IS who are present in Deir Ezzor province have confirmed the death of Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, emir of the Islamic State group, to the Observatory,” director Rami Abdel Rahman told AFP.
“We learned of it today but we do not know when he died or how.”
Deir Ezzor, in eastern Syria, remains largely under IS control even as the group is losing territory elsewhere in the country and in neighboring Iraq.
Abdel Rahman said al- Baghdadi “was present in eastern parts of Deir Ezzor province” in recent months, but it was unclear if he was killed in the area or elsewhere.
There was no official confirmation or denial of the news on social media platforms used by IS.
The US-led coalition said it could not verify the Observatory’s report.
“We cannot confirm this report, but hope it is true,” said coalition spokesman Colonel Ryan Dillon.
“We strongly advise ISIS to implement a strong line of succession, it will be needed,” he added, using a different acronym for IS.
A “new caliph” will be announced soon, the reports said.
Last month, Russian Foreign Ministry said it was “highly likely” the leader of the Islamic State terror group was killed in a May airstrike carried out by the country’s military.
The reclusive jihadist chief made his only known public appearance as “caliph” at Friday prayers on June 29, 2014, at the Grand Mosque of al-Nuri in Mosul — where, on Sunday, Iraq declared victory over al-Baghdadi’s Islamic State group after a grueling battle.
That appearance three years ago made the mosque a symbol of IS rule, and the jihadists did not allow it to be captured intact, blowing it and its famed leaning minaret up in June as Iraqi forces closed in.
The 46-year-old Iraqi-born leader of IS, nicknamed “The Ghost,” has not been seen in public since his 2014 visit to the mosque, and the fortunes of his “caliphate” have taken a drastic turn for the worse.
The world’s most-wanted man has been rumored wounded or killed a number of times in the past, and while he was said to have left Mosul earlier this year, his whereabouts were never confirmed.