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US Skeptical of Russian Claim it Killed IS Leader

  • VOA Staff

FILE - This image taken from a militant website July 5, 2014, purports to show the leader of the Islamic State group, Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, who released a new message late Wednesday, encouraging his followers to keep up the fight for the city of Mosul.

U.S. officials are highly skeptical about reports that Islamic State leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi may have been killed in an airstrike last month.

Russia's army said Friday that one of its airstrikes in Syria in late May targeting IS commanders might have killed the terror group's leader, but a senior Trump administration official said the U.S. wasn't convinced al-Baghdadi was dead.

Speaking to reporters aboard Air Force One, the official said there were "a number of infirmities" in the story that left them nervous.

"We've seen a number of, and a pattern of, claims from Syria, Russia and others who have various different motives and intentions, making such claims wrongly or quickly and inaccurately," the official said.

The Russian Defense Ministry said the strike near the Islamic State's de facto capital of Raqqa hit a meeting that al-Baghdadi attended.

Russia claimed the strike destroyed high-ranking commanders, about 30 field commanders and as many as 300 militants serving as personal guards.

The Trump administration official said it was unlikely that many IS members would gather in one place, especially such high-ranking members, and that a loss that big would surely have been noticed by now.

"That's the type of magnitude that we would think we would have already seen reflections of, and at least to my knowledge, we weren't aware of it," he said.

According to the Russian Defense Ministry, the IS leaders were discussing their planned exit through the so-called southern corridor at the meeting.

A spokesman for the U.S. Defense Department, Navy Captain Jeff Davis, said the military had "no information to corroborate" the Russian reports.

VOA national security correspondent Jeff Seldin contributed to this report.

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