Isil leader Baghdadi ‘definitely still alive’, say Iraqi and Kurdish intel chiefs

Islamic State leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi is still alive and hiding in Syria, despite Russian reports of his death, Iraqi and Kurdish counter-terrorism officials have said. 

“Baghdadi is definitely alive. He is not dead. We have information that he is alive. We believe 99 percent he is alive,” Lahur Talabany, a top Kurdish counter-terrorism official said in an interview on Monday.

Mr Talabany claimed the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (Isil) leader was located somewhere south of Raqqa, the capital of the jihadist group’s so-called caliphate. 

“Don’t forget his roots go back to al-Qaeda days in Iraq. He has years of experience in hiding and getting away from the security services,” he told Reuters. “He knows what he is doing.”

Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi making what would have been his first public appearance in Mosul Credit: AP

Russia had claimed it killed the elusive leader, who has not been seen in public since declaring Isil’s so-called caliphate from the Iraqi city of Mosul in July 2014, in an air strike on a meeting of senior Isil commanders near Raqqa on May 28.

The UK-based monitor Syrian Observatory for Human Rights (SOHR) last week said they had “unconfirmed information” Baghdadi had been killed in Syria. 

However, Western and Iraqi officials could not confirm either of the claims.

“Our approach is we assume he’s alive until it’s proven otherwise, and right now I can’t prove it otherwise,” Jim Mattis, US defence Secretary, said last week. “We’ll go after him until he’s gone.”

Abu Ali Basri, the director general of the Iraq’s intelligence and counter-terrorism office in the ministry of interior, agreed Baghdadi was still alive and in Syria.

Fleeing Iraqi civilians walk past the heavily damaged al-Nuri mosque where Baghdadi declared Isil’s caliphate in 2014 Credit: AP

“We have more of a vested interest than others, than international and Arab intelligence services, to pursue and hunt down, to monitor all the movements of the leader of and his followers,” Mr Basri said, addressing the Russian claims.

“The monitoring cells deny news of his death and other reports regarding his health recently published.”

Baghdadi is not thought to have been in the Syrian city of Raqqa, which has been heavily targeted by the US-led coalition, for some time and is believed to have been moving between Isil territory along the Syria-Iraq border.

The Telegraph was told by a resident of the village of Jdaidet al-Okaibat on the outskirts of the…

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