Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi appears to be still alive, a top US military commander said on Friday, contradicting Russia’s claims that it probably killed the Islamic State (IS) leader months ago.
“Do I believe he’s alive? Yes,” said Army Lt Gen Stephen Townsend, who commands the coalition forces fighting IS in Iraq and Syria, referring to al-Baghdadi.
At first, Townsend said his belief stemmed from a lack of evidence he had seen “rumor or otherwise” that al-Baghdadi was dead. But, he then added: “There are also some indicators in intelligence channels that he’s alive.” Townsend did not elaborate on the intelligence.
Russian officials said in June there was a “high probability” that al-Baghdadi died in a Russian airstrike on the outskirts of Raqqa, Syria, a month earlier.
Speaking to reporters at the Pentagon from his headquarters in Baghdad, Townsend said US and coalition forces are actively searching for al-Baghdadi. If they find him, they probably will kill him rather than capture him, he said.
A good guess about where al-Baghdadi is hiding, Townsend said, would be the so-called Middle Euphrates River Valley, stretching approximately from the city of Deir el-Zour in eastern Syria to the town of Rawa in western Iraq.
He said this area is shaping up to be the group’s “last stand” following its ouster from nearly all of northern Iraq.