Damascus (GPA) – Following an airstrike in Syria earlier last month, officials at the Russian Ministry of Defense (MoD) are now attempting to determine if Islamic State (IS) leader, Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, was among the targets killed.
The Russian government is now investigating an airstrike led by their forces and carried out on May 28th in a suburb of Raqqa, Syria. The target of the strike was a meeting of several top IS leaders, and now it’s believed this may have included the head of IS, the self proclaimed ‘Caliph Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi.’
While normally this wouldn’t be a big deal, since the US has claimed several times that Baghdadi was possibly injured or killed as a result of ‘Coalition strikes’, but this is the first time Russia has made the claim. Baghdadi hasn’t made a public statement since November 2, calling on IS fighters to defend Mosul as Iraqi operations to retake the city began.
According to the Russian MoD, they did suspect Baghdadi may be at the meeting but are just now making an official announcement. The statement released by the MoD today explains the operation, which was targeting the IS leaders meeting to discuss “routes for the exit of militants from Raqqa through the so-called ‘southern corridor.'”
The strike was carried out by several Russian Su-34 and Su-35 jets and possibly killed up to 300 militants. Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov told reporters he couldn’t be 100% sure Baghdadi was among those killed, but Russia has shared the location of the strike with the US and their coalition partners. Sharing this information with the US ensures that whatever fighting force arrives at the bombing site first can investigate this claim.
As of now, the leadership of the US coalition forces in the area say they can’t confirm anything about the airstrike. While that is a fair assessment, the usual cast of anti-Russian and anti-Assad propagandists are denying Russia’s claim outright. This is (of course) being led by the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights – AKA one man in London – who claims he has exclusive information that Baghdadi was in Iraq in late May.
This is why the amount of time that’s passed since the strike should be viewed as a good thing, instead of being doubted automatically. It’s been several weeks since the strike took place, so Russia’s decision to wait to release a statement on the possible result of a strike seems responsible. Baghdadi’s death won’t stop IS but it will be good optics for whichever country kills him, so hopefully it is the ally of Syria’s legitimate leader, Russia.