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Iraq claims Islamic State chief Baghdadi hit in air raid

BAGHDAD: Iraq claimed Sunday to have struck a convoy carrying Islamic State group leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi in an air raid near the Syrian border but said his fate was unknown.

In Syria meanwhile regime troops backed by Russian air strikes made progress on two fronts but were battling other rebel groups.

Iraqi aircraft struck Baghdadi’s convoy as it was “moving towards Karabla to attend a meeting of the Islamic State terrorist leaders,” an Iraqi security statement said.

Karabla lies on the Euphrates barely five kilometres (three miles) from the Syrian border in western Anbar, a vast Iraqi province which has long been a Sunni insurgent stronghold.

The statement issued by Iraq’s “war media cell” said Baghdadi was “transported in a vehicle” after the strike but added that “his health status was unknown”.

The meeting place was also struck in the operation and several IS leaders already gathered there were killed and wounded, it said.

Interior ministry spokesman Saad Maan told AFP that “the strike was yesterday (Saturday) at noon.”

In Washington, a US military official said: “We’ve seen the Iraqi statement about al-Baghdadi but have no info that confirms it.”

Baghdadi’s death would give the war against the most violent jihadist organisation in modern history a much-needed boost but Iraqi security sources have made such claims in the past.

“It’s hard to confirm, there is definitely a psychological war going on between Iraqi intelligence and IS,” Iraqi analyst Ihsan al-Shammari said.

“But even if they just hit his convoy, that would show a real improvement in the field of intelligence,” he said.

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