A photo purporting to show the slain body of Islamic State leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi appears to be a doctored picture of another slain militant killed in Syria in 2013.
Rumors circulated on social media and Iraqi media over the weekend that Baghdadi was slain in a US airstrike several days ago.
Later Iraqi reports said the IS leader was severely wounded in the chest near the Syrian border and was receiving medical treatment.
The reports could not be independently confirmed.
A picture purporting to show Baghdadi’s bloodied body in fatigues also circulated.
However, the picture appears to actually show Baghdadi’s head pasted onto the body of Sami Hafez Al-Abdullah, an Albanian national killed in Syria in 2013, according to an investigation by Storyful, a social media news agency.
A picture of Abdullah, who reportedly also served as an imam in Germany, and a report on his death appeared on Yemenite news site Hournews.net last year.
Despite the apparently doctored photo, Baghdadi’s fate, amid continuing American air strikes, remains unclear.
Washington expanded its month-long air campaign to Iraq’s Sunni Arab heartland, hitting Islamic State fighters west of Baghdad as troops and allied tribesmen launched a ground assault on Sunday.
The new strikes deepen Washington’s involvement in the conflict and were a significant escalation for President Barack Obama, who made his political career opposing the war in Iraq and pulled out US troops in 2011.
Previous strikes — since the US air campaign began on August 8 — had been mainly in support of Kurdish forces in the north.
US warplanes bombed IS fighters around a strategic dam on the Euphrates River in an area that the jihadists have repeatedly tried to capture from government troops and their Sunni militia allies.
“We conducted these strikes to prevent terrorists from further threatening the security of the dam, which remains under control of Iraqi security forces, with support from Sunni tribes,” Pentagon spokesman Rear Admiral John Kirby said.
“The potential loss of control of the dam, or a catastrophic failure of the dam — and the flooding that might result — would have threatened US personnel and facilities in and around Baghdad, as well as thousands of Iraqi citizens,” he added.
AFP contributed to this report.