Washington: Pentagon chief Jim Mattis said on Friday that he cannot confirm whether or not Islamic State chief Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi is alive or dead.
Mattis’ statement after in the wake of reports from Syria that the jihadist leader had been killed in a recent air strike by the Russian military.
“If we knew, we would tell you — right now, I can’t confirm or deny it,” Mattis said.
“Our approach is we assume he’s alive until it’s proven otherwise, and right now I can’t prove it otherwise.”
The Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, a longtime conflict monitor, said earlier this week it had heard from senior IS leaders in Syria’s Deir Ezzor province that Baghdadi was dead.
Russia originally claimed last month to have killed in an air strike. The Pentagon, Syrian Kurds and Iraqi officials have all been quick to say that reports of his death cannot be corroborated, although they have not denied the claims.
As reported in The Independent, Turkish officials said they are receiving persistent reports that he is dead
There was no official confirmation or denial of the news on IS-run social media outlets.