TASS reported on June 29 that the Iranian government’s national broadcaster, IRIB, had distributed photographic proof that IS leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi was killed in a Russian airstrike in May 2017.
Earlier, on June 16, Russia’s defense ministry had announced that al-Baghdadi “might have been killed” in a Russian airstrike in Raqqa, Syria, on May 28, along with 300 high-ranking terrorists.
That same day, the ministry released before/after satellite photos showing the site of the alleged airstrike as a proof of a successful attack targeting the IS leadership.
The U.S. and other Western military intelligences however, said there is no credible intelligence verifying the Russian claim. Military experts expressed doubt about the Russian defense ministry’s satellite photos, saying the precision type of strikes shown in the them are not characteristic of strikes conducted by Russian aviation.
Nobody from IS has responded yet to the Russian claims either confirming or denying al-Baghdadi’s death.
“Why hasn’t al-Baghdadi released an audio message to refute the rumors of his death? It could be as simple as keeping his enemy guessing while he stays in hiding elsewhere,” Martin Reardon, a senior vice president with The Soufan Group, a strategic security and intelligence consultancy, told Polygraph.info via email from Doha, Qatar.
“Keep in mind that after his reported death as the result of a U.S. airstrike a year ago, al-Baghdadi waited several months before sending out an audio message confirming he was still alive last November,” Reardon said. “Incidentally, that’s the last time we’ve heard from him. Al-Baghdadi, and the senior ISIS leaders, know they are targets, so for survivability purposes, are seen or heard from only when absolutely necessary.”
Multiple Iranian news agencies, however, distributed photos allegedly showing “the corpse of al-Baghdadi” after he was killed in a Russian airstrike this past May. Besides state TV, the conservative Iranian news agency Shafaqna posted such photos.
These Iranian photo reports have been picked up and distributed widely by Russian media.
However, there is one big problem when it comes to the accuracy of these reports: the same photos have been circulating around the Internet since 2014.
The Iranian news aggregator Namnak posted these very same pictures on June 25, 2016. It claimed the photos were of the corpse of al-Baghdadi, but that he had been killed in a “Western coalition airstrike.”
Even earlier, in November 2014, the India News television channel broadcast the same photos, saying they showed Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi not dead, but “injured.”
Polygraph.info was able to track down the origins of these photographs to the Islamic State Twitter account Al-I’tisaam, which has been inactive since at least 2014.
“Recent reporting that ISIS leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi was killed during a late May 2017 Russian airstrike in Raqqa – along with over 300 other ‘terrorists’ – have still not been verified with any credible intelligence from either Russia, Iran, the U.S. or other intelligence services,” Reardon said. “Internet photos of what are claimed to be al-Baghdadi’s body are also suspect at this point, as they can be easily doctored.”