Three years ago, video emerged of the leader of so-called Islamic State (IS), Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, commanding allegiance in a sermon at the Great Mosque of al-Nuri in Mosul. The Iraqi city had been freshly captured by the jihadist group and a “caliphate” declared.
At the time, IS controlled a region the size of the United Kingdom – but since then a global war against the jihadists has sent them into retreat, and the whereabouts of Baghdadi – a man with a $25m US bounty on his head – are a mystery.
On the third anniversary of Baghdadi’s first – and last public – public appearance, IS no longer controls most of the land it once held and its leader has been conspicuously silent since addressing followers in a recorded audio message last November, after the battle to dislodge the group from Mosul began.
Amid this silence, unconfirmed reports of Baghdadi’s death have recently surfaced. Russia’s deputy foreign minister said it was “highly likely” Baghdadi was killed in a Russian air force strike on Raqqa on 28 May, and an Iranian official asserted last week that he was “definitely dead”. However, both claims were questioned by American officials.