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Islamic State chief Baghdadi likely still alive: US general

Previous unverified reports claimed the IS leader was killed in an airstrike [Anadolu]

Date of publication: 1 September, 2017

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A senior US general said the Islamic State's leader, Abubakr al-Baghdadi, is believed to be alive and likely hiding in the Middle Euphrates River Valley, despite reports of his demise.

Elusive Islamic State leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi is probably still alive and likely hiding in the Middle Euphrates River Valley, a senior US general said on Thursday.

"We're looking for him every day. I don't think he's dead," Lieutenant General Stephen Townsend, commander of the counter-IS coalition in Iraq and Syria, told reporters in a conference call.

Townsend admitted he didn't "have a clue" where Baghdadi is precisely, but believes he may have fled with many other IS militants into the Middle Euphrates region stretching from Syria to Iraq, after coalition and local force assaults on the IS bastions of Mosul, Raqqa and Tal Afar.

"The last stand of ISIS will be in the Middle Euphrates River Valley," Townsend said, using an alternative acronym for the militant group.

"When we find him, I think we'll just try to kill him first. It's probably not worth all the trouble to try and capture him."

Despite a $25 million US bounty on his head, Iraq-born Baghdadi has so far successfully avoided an intense effort to seek him out for more than six years.

In June, Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, a longtime conflict monitor, said that it had heard from senior IS leaders in Syria's Deir az-Zour province that Baghdadi was dead.

Russia's army said it was seeking to verify whether it had killed him in a May airstrike in Syria.

"I've seen no convincing evidence, intelligence, or open-source or other rumour or otherwise that he's dead.... There are also some indicators in intelligence channels that he's still alive," said Townsend.

Similar comments were made Kurdish officials in July who said Baghdadi is still alive, casting doubts on a "substantial" claim of the jihadi chief's alleged demise.

Lahur Talabany, the top Kurdish counter-terrorism agent, told Reuters that he was 99 percent sure that Baghdadi was alive and located south of the Syrian city of Raqqa.

"Baghdadi is definitely alive. He is not dead. We have information that he is alive. We believe 99 percent he is alive," Talabany said.

"Don't forget his roots go back to al-Qaeda days in Iraq. He was hiding from security services. He knows what he is doing."

In 2014, following the rapid capture of Mosul and vast swathes of western Iraq by IS, Baghdadi declared himself the new leader of an "Islamic caliphate" from the Grand Mosque of al-Nuri in the Old City of Mosul.

The group and lone wolves inspired by it have claimed numerous terror attacks from the US to the Philippines, via Europe and the Middle East.

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