Iraqis claim Islamic State chief Baghdadi’s convoy hit in air raid

Baghdad, October 11

Iraqi security forces claimed today to have struck the convoy of Islamic State group leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi in an air raid near the country’s border with Syria.

“The Iraqi air force carried out a heroic operation targeting the convoy of the criminal terrorist Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi,” Iraq’s security forces said in a joint statement.

“His health status is unknown,” it said, adding that the leader of the IS jihadist group was “transported in a vehicle” after the strike.

Iraqi security sources have previously said Baghdadi had been injured or killed in past strikes, but such claims were either never verified or later denied.

The statement was released by the “war media cell”, a structure which provides updates on the war against IS on behalf of the interior and defence ministries as well as the paramilitary Popular Mobilisation forces.

Iraqi aircraft struck Baghdadi’s convoy as it was “moving towards Karabla to attend a meeting of the Daesh terrorist leaders”, the statement said. “The meeting place was also bombed and many of those leaders were killed and wounded,” it said, adding that it would later release names.

Daesh is an Arabic acronym for IS, which last year proclaimed a “caliphate” straddling Iraq and Syria. Karabla is located on the Euphrates river barely five kilometres from the border with Syria.

Interior ministry spokesman Saad Maan told AFP that “the strike was yesterday (Saturday) at noon.” It said the operation was conducted in coordination with Iraq’s interior ministry intelligence services and the joint operation command centre that includes military advisers from the US-led coalition.

The health and whereabouts of Baghdadi, who has a $10 million US bounty on his head, are the subject of constant speculation. He was reported wounded multiple times over the past year and his apparent survival has only added to mystery surrounding the IS chief.

According to an official Iraqi government document, Baghdadi was born in Samarra in 1971 and has four children with his first wife -- two boys and two girls born between 2000 and 2008.

An Iraqi intelligence report indicates Baghdadi, who it says has a PhD in Islamic studies and was a professor at Tikrit University, also married a second woman, with whom he had another son.

Baghdadi apparently joined the insurgency that erupted after the 2003 US-led invasion of Iraq, at one point spending time in an American military prison in the country’s south.

The IS group, considered the most violent in modern jihad, has developed a formidable propaganda machine to support its operations and recruitment.

But Baghdadi has only appeared once in public since taking the helm of the movement, in June 2014 at a mosque in the northern Iraqi city of Mosul.

In his sermon, he asked all Muslims to obey him and join the caliphate.