Iraq official denies Russian report of killing IS leader
An air raid that Russia claimed killed the leader of the Islamic State group has reportedly killed an elderly hay dealer and his extended family instead, an Iraqi intelligence official has told The New Arab.
An official in the Iraqi National Intelligence Service said on Friday that the strike, which Moscow said killed Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi and up to 330 other fighters on 28 May in the Syrian city of Raqqa, failed disastrously to hit its intended target.
"Our information indicates that the Russian air raid struck the house of an animal fodder seller named Ibrahim al-Hajj, a 60-year-old from the village of al-Barouda," the source, who spoke on the condition of anonymity, said.
"He was killed along with his wife, children and some of his grandchildren. He had nothing to do with IS," he said, adding that US authorities had confirmed that the Russian report was false.
According to the Russian defence ministry, which published photos of the site targeted, other IS commanders killed in the strike included Emir of Raqqa Abu al-Haji al-Masri, Emir Ibrahim al-Naef al-Hajj and IS security chief Suleiman al-Sawah.
Hours after the attack, IS media released footage showing damaged buildings and a number of dead people, blaming "US air raids".
There have been numerous false reports of Baghdadi's death since he declared the caliphate from the pulpit of Mosul's al-Nuri mosque back in 2014.
In March, senior US and Iraqi officials said Baghdadi had fled the Iraqi city of Mosul and was hiding out in the desert near the Syrian border.
An Iraqi military source told The New Arab at the same time that the IS chief had been hiding out in one of four towns along the border region between Iraq and Syria, where his supporters are plenty and the potential for informers fewer.
He said Baghdadi was possibly hiding out in the western Iraqi towns of al-Baaj or al-Qaim. The other possibilities were the Syrian city of Deir al-Zour and the Syrian town of al-Bukamal.
"Baghdadi has excelled at moving around undetected and often travels with a single companion Abu Ali al-Somali, who is a former member of Syria's branch of al-Qaeda and originally from Somalia," the source said at the time.
The report failed to include the extremists' de-facto Syrian capital of Raqqa, which a US-backed Kurdish alliance has entered for the first time earlier this month and has so far captured four neighbourhoods in the city.