CAIRO/BEIRUT: The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights told Reuters Tuesday it had “confirmed information” that Daesh (ISIS) leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi had been killed.
The report came just days after the Iraqi army recaptured the last sectors of the northern Iraqi city of Mosul, which Baghdadi’s forces overran almost exactly three years ago.
Russia’s Defense Ministry said in June that it might have killed Baghdadi when one of its airstrikes hit a gathering of Daesh commanders on the outskirts of Raqqa in Syria. Washington said it could not corroborate the death and Western and Iraqi officials have been skeptical.
“[We have] confirmed information from leaders, including one of the first rank who is Syrian, in Daesh in the eastern countryside of Deir al-Zor,” said Rami Abdel-Rahman, the director of the Britain-based group.
In Iraq, the top U.S. general in Iraq later said the coalition had no concrete information.
“Despite all the helpful reports to us from every source imaginable, I’m unable to confirm or deny either where he is, or whether he is alive or dead,” Lt. Gen. Stephen Townsend told a news briefing.
Abdel-Rahman said activists working with him in Deir al-Zor had been told by Daesh sources that Baghdadi had died, but not when or how. The sources said Baghdadi had been present in the eastern countryside of Syria’s Deir al-Zor province in the past three months.
Daesh-affiliated websites and social media have so far said nothing.
In northern Syria, meanwhile, the U.S.-backed, Kurdish-led Syrian Democratic Forces drove Daesh militants from the town of Al-Akershi, 14 km southeast of Raqqa, where the militants had once run a training camp named for Osama bin Laden.
The SDF have been advancing against Daesh on both sides of the Euphrates River Valley in Syria while battling the group for control of its de facto capital, Raqqa, with U.S. air and ground support.
In other developments, two rebel groups that operate in southeast Syria, Jaish al-Ossoud al-Sharqiya and the Ahmad Abdo Martyrs group, issued a joint statement Tuesday saying they had downed a Syrian government warplane near a cease-fire zone in the country’s south.
“The plane was shot down and crashed in regime-controlled territory. We have no information on the pilot,” said Fares al-Munjed, communications head for the Ahmad Abdo Martyrs group.
The Observatory confirmed that the rebel groups had hit the plane near a village on the administrative border between the provinces of Rural Damascus and Swaida.
Swaida is part of a new cease-fire deal negotiated by the United States, Russia and Jordan that went into effect Sunday. The deal has brought relative quiet to most of the provinces covered – Deraa, Qunaitra and Swaida – though outbreaks of violence have been reported.
In Swaida, government forces launched an attack Monday on the Ahmad Abdo Martyrs and Jaish al-Ossoud al-Sharqiya. Fighting continued into Tuesday over a series of hilltops and villages in the province, the Observatory and rebels said.In Geneva, the seventh and latest round of indirect peace talks continued.
Syria’s U.N. Ambassador Bashar al-Jaafari appealed to “genuine partners” to help end his country’s war, insisting that such international cooperation must involve President Bashar Assad’s government.
Speaking to reporters after a meeting in Geneva with the U.N. envoy for Syria Staffan de Mistura, Jaafari said the discussions Wednesday morning focused on the fight against terrorism. He said government experts were also expected to take up technical talks on political issues.
De Mistura told reporters Monday he doesn’t expect any breakthroughs, but rather “incremental” progress in the talks set to run through Friday.
Also Tuesday, hundreds of Syrians arrived to their hometown of Homs by bus after electing to return to living under government authority instead of under the auspices of Turkey in north Syria.
Homs Gov. Talal al-Barazi told the Associated Press that some 630 residents had returned to the Waer neighborhood in Homs from Jarablus after finding conditions there too difficult.
More than 20,000 residents evacuated Waer this spring after rebels holding the neighborhood agreed to surrender it back to the control of the government.