A top Kurdish official believes with 99 percent certainty that ISIS leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi is alive and well, following another round of reports from around the world claiming the demise of the terrorist “caliph.”
“Baghdadi is definitely alive. He is not dead. We have information that he is alive. We believe 99 percent he is alive,” Kurdish counterterror official Lahur Talabany told Reuters Monday.
The Kurdish official said that Baghdadi is an expert at absconding from the reach of advanced intelligence services.
“Don’t forget his roots go back to al Qaeda days in Iraq,” Talabany explained. “He was hiding from security services. He knows what he is doing.”
Talabany added that reports about the Islamic State’s demise were also greatly exaggerated. The Kurdish official argued that ISIS does not need to hold masses of territory to be successful. He predicted that it would take three or four years to eliminate the global jihadist entity. Even after defeat, the group could morph into an al-Qaida on “steroids,” he explained.
The ISIS leader’s whereabouts remain a complete mystery. But Talabany guessed that Baghdadi remained somewhere in the eastern part of Raqqa, Syria.
Countless past reports claiming Baghdadi’s death have not turned up any verifiable proof. In June, Russia claimed with a “high degree of certainty” that Baghdadi was killed in a late May air strike. Following the claim, the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights supposedly “confirmed information” that Baghdadi was killed.
Baghdadi last released an audio recording on November 3, 2016, asking members of ISIS to continue to fight for the city of Mosul, Iraq, which was recently liberated from the grip of ISIS by U.S. and coalition forces.
Baghdadi was arrested by U.S. forces in Iraq in 2004 but later released as a “low-level prisoner.” He declared himself the “caliph” of ISIS. In 2010, he became the leader of al-Qaida in Iraq (AQI). Then in 2013, he announced the formation of what is now known as the Islamic State, ISIS, ISIL, IS, or DAESH. In 2014, Baghdadi declared the establishment of an Islamic State, with himself as the “caliph” of the group.
The U.S. government continues to offer a $25 million reward for information that brings Baghdadi to justice.