US defence minister says he assumes al-Bagdadi is alive


WASHINGTON — US Defence Secretary James Mattis said Friday he believes Islamic State leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi is still alive.

“I’ll believe otherwise when we know we’ve killed him,” Mattis told reporters at the Pentagon. “We assume he’s alive.”

Mattis’ statement follows a report by a Syrian human rights watchdog last week saying it had received information confirming the death of al-Baghdadi.

Rami Abdel-Rahman, head of the Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, told dpa that al-Baghdadi died in a village in Deir al-Zour province in eastern Syria.

Abdel Rahman did not provide any additional details on exactly when or how al-Baghdadi was killed.

In June, the Observatory, a London-based opposition activist organization, disputed a Russian claim that it could have killed al-Baghdadi in an airstrike around the city of al-Raqqa in northern Syria on May 28.

Moscow said that the strike came as senior Islamic State leaders were meeting to discuss their route out of al-Raqqa at the time of the Russian airstrike, which killed about 300 Islamic State fighters, including 30 commanders, Russia said.

Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said in June there had been no 100-per-cent confirmation of reports that the Russian strikes killed al-Baghdadi.

A spokesperson from US Central Command told dpa the US military had “no operational reporting to corroborate” al-Baghdadi’s death.

Al-Baghdadi in 2014 proclaimed a caliphate spanning parts of Iraq and Syria from the Grand al-Nuri Mosque in Mosul. He considers himself a profit in succession to Mohammed and has laid claim to the title caliph, the leader of all Muslims.