The leader of the militant Islamic State Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi has made what would be his first public appearance at a mosque in the centre of Iraq's second city, Mosul, according to a video recording posted on the Internet on July 5, 2014, in this still image taken from video. There had previously been reports on social media that Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi would make his first public appearance since his Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant (ISIS) changed its name to the Islamic State and declared him caliph. The Iraqi government denied that the video, which carried Friday's date, was credible. It was also not possible to immediately confirm the authenticity of the recording or the date when it was made.05/07/2014 IRAQ-MOSUL
/AY-COLLECTION_1445.09/Credit:AY-COLLECTION/SIPA/1407061450 (Sipa via AP Images)
A report by the Russian Interfax news agency dated 1st August 2017 timed 11:37 suggests that the Russians also are now starting to doubt that Ibrahim Abu Bakr Al-Baghdadi, ISIS’s self-proclaimed “Caliph”, was really killed in a Russian air strike on Raqqa as was previously claimed.
The report reads as follows
Russian Foreign Intelligence Service chief Naryshkin doesn’t confirm al-Baghdadi’s death
As is usually the case with Interfax, no details of this story are provided such as who Naryshkin is supposed to have reported this information to. A brief internet search I have carried out has supplied no further details. Interfax is however a highly reliable news agency and there is no doubt Naryshkin did make the report it refers to.
Naryshkin heads Russia’s Foreign Intelligence Service (“SVR”) which is the successor intelligence agency to the Soviet KGB’s First Directorate, which was responsible during the USSR for foreign intelligence operations. As such it has a continuous history extending back to the Special Section of the Cheka set up by Felix Dzerzhinksy in December 1920.
The SVR is not Russia’s oldest foreign intelligence agency. That honour belongs to the Russian military’s intelligence agency the GRU, which was set up by Lenin in November 1918. However it is arguably the most prestigious. Famously Vladimir Putin was once one of its agents.
If the SVR is unable to confirm Al-Baghdadi’s death so many weeks after it was first reportedm the high probability must be that he is still alive. That is consistent with the fact that ISIS – a highly centralised organisation with authority concentrated in Al-Baghdadi’s person – continues to function in much the same way that it did before reports appeared of his death.
If Al-Baghdadi really is alive then the reports that previously circulated which appeared to confirm his death and which seemed to originate from within ISIS – one of which was published by the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights – were not only false but must have been the result of a deliberate ISIS disinformation campaign.
ISIS is of course fully capable of such a campaign, whose purpose in this case would presumably have been to throw his pursuers – first and foremost the US and the Russians – off Al-Baghdadi’s tracks.
Given that the best indications are that Al-Baghdadi is not merely alive but in control of ISIS his most likely location is with the rest of ISIS’s top leadership, who are known to have fled ISIS’s erstwhile capital of Raqqa some months ago and to have relocated to Deir Ezzor province.