MOSCOW — Russia said Friday it believes one of its airstrikes may have killed ISIS leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi.
The militant commander’s death has been rumored many times before.
The country’s defense ministry said on Facebook that it was checking information related to the attack, which it said targeted a meeting of senior ISIS figures near the group’s Syrian stronghold of Raqqa on May 28.
It said around 30 field commanders and 300 militants were killed by Su-35 and Su-34 fighter jets. Baghdadi may have been at the meeting, the defense ministry added.
“According to the information that is being checked via various channels … the leader of ISIS was at the conference and was liquidated by the strike,” it said in a statement posted on Facebook.
The Russian military said it has told the United States about the strike “that may have killed the ISIS leader.”
It added that “the U.S. partners have been pre-warned about the timing and location of the Russian airstrike via communication channels.”
Baghdadi went from a U.S. detention camp to the top of the jihadi universe with a whisper of a backstory and a $10 million bounty on his head.
He emerged as the leader of what was then al Qaeda in Iraq in 2010, transforming the militants into a well-oiled and organized fighting force.
The group changed its name in April 2013 to the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant when Baghdadi declared his fighters also were operating in Syria. It later became known as the Islamic State, or ISIS.
The move signaled the group’s broader ambitions and goal of establishing a caliphate straddling the border of Iraq and Syria — plus the strict enforcement of Shariah law.
In a June 2013 audio statement, Baghdadi — who claims to be a direct descendant of the Prophet Muhammad — vowed to erase the “Western imposed border with Syria” and called on his followers to “tear apart” the governments in both countries and their regional backers.
Before taking the reins of the terror organization Baghdadi spent three years at Camp Bucca, the U.S. prison camp. He was released in 2009.
Mansur Mirovalev reported from Moscow. Alexander Smith reported from London. Reuters contributed to this report.