MOSCOW, June 22, (Agencies): A senior Russian diplomat says the head of the Islamic State group has most likely been killed in a Russian airstrike. Deputy Foreign Minister Oleg Syromolotov told the state-run RIA Novosti news agency Thursday that “according to the Defense Ministry’s information, there is a high probability that (Abu Bakr) al-Baghdadi has been killed when the Russian air force hit militants’ headquarters on the southern outskirts of Raqqa in late May.” He wouldn’t offer details.
The Defense Ministry first made the claim Friday, adding that al-Baghdadi’s death in the May 28 strike was still “being verified through various channels.” Syromolotov similarly said that the checks were continuing. He added that al-Baghdadi’s demise would mark a “major success in the fight against international terrorism,” spreading “fear and panic” in the IS ranks.
The Islamic State group blew up a historic landmark in Mosul — the city’s famed 12th century al-Nuri mosque with its iconic leaning minaret known as al-Hadba, from where the IS leader proclaimed the militant group’s self-styled caliphate nearly three years ago. The explosion destroyed another piece of priceless Iraqi cultural heritage but also sent a strong message to US-led coalition forces and Iraqi troops closing in on the last stronghold of IS, in Mosul’s Old City neighborhood.
Iraq’s Ministry of Defense said the militants detonated explosives planted inside the structures on Wednesday night. Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi tweeted early on Thursday that the destruction was an admission by the militants that they are losing the fight for Iraq’s second-largest city. “DAESH’s bombing of the al-Hadba minaret and the al- Nuri Mosque is a formal declaration of their defeat,” al-Abadi said, using the Arabic acronym for the Islamic State group. “It is a shock, a real big shock,” Amir al-Jumaili, a professor at the Archaeology College in Mosul told The Associated Press. The al-Nuri mosque, which is also known as Mosul’s Great Mosque, is where IS leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi made a rare public appearance, declaring a so-called Islamic caliphate in the summer of 2014, shortly after Mosul was overrun by the militants. The minaret that leaned like Italy’s Tower of Pisa had stood for more than 840 years.