IS leader al-Baghdadi critically wounded in airstrike: Reportstext_fields
London: Head of the Islamic State (IS) terrorist group Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi was critically wounded in an airstrike in Iraq by the US-led coalition last month, The Guardian reported on Tuesday citing sources.
A source in Iraq with connections to the terror group, however, said that the IS leader, whose wounds were initially believed to be life threatening, has since made a slow recovery, but has not resumed day-to-day control of the organisation.
Baghdadi's injuries led to urgent meetings of the IS leadership, and plans were made to name a new leader to take over the reins of the organisation from Baghdadi in the event of his death.
A western diplomat and an Iraqi adviser confirmed that the strike took place on March 18 in the al-Baaj district of Iraq's Nineveh province.
There had been two previous reports in November and December of Baghdadi being wounded, though neither was accurate.
The diplomat confirmed that an airstrike on a convoy had taken place that day between the village of Umm al-Rous and al-Qaraan. The attack targeted local IS leaders and is believed to have killed three men. Officials did not know at the time that Baghdadi was in one of the cars.
Hisham al-Hashimi, an Iraqi official who advises Baghdad on the IS, told The Guardian: “Yes, he was wounded in al-Baaj near the village of Umm al-Rous on 18 March with a group that was with him.”
US officials were unable to confirm the report. “We have nothing to confirm this report,” said a Pentagon spokesman.
Baghdadi is understood to have been spending much of his time in al-Baaj, about 322 km west of the IS stronghold of Mosul.
“He chose this area because he knew from the war that the Americans did not have much cover there,” said a source privy to some of Baghdadi's movements.
Al-Baaj, a Sunni tribal area, has long remained outside state control even under the former Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein, and is considered to have been a safe haven for jihadis since 2004.
Baghdadi had at least one earlier brush with death when US jets attacked a convoy on the outskirts of Mosul on December 14.
His close aide Auf Abdul Rahman al-Efery was killed when a rocket fired from a war plane hit one of the cars. Baghdadi was believed to be in the second car, which was not hit.
In recent months, air strikes have been increasingly effective in targeting the IS leadership. Baghdadi's deputy, Abu Muslim al-Turkmani, and the head of the group's military operations in Iraq were both killed in early December.
After seizing control of a large chunk of Iraq and Syria in June, the IS has recently lost substantial ground in both countries.
However, the border between the two countries is largely redundant and, despite airstrikes, the group remains in control of six crossing points that allow a ready flow of funds, fighters and weapons.
Baghdadi had declared a large territory from eastern Aleppo in Syria to central Iraq to be part of his caliphate.
While Baghdadi invokes authority as a religious leader, the constant threat from the skies has led to some of the command and strategic decisions of the IS being made by other members of the leadership.