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Dead again: Fresh reports on fate of IS leader Baghdadi

Syrian Observatory for Human Rights issues latest report on death of IS leader - which US says it cannot confirm but hopes is true
Baghdadi declared himself 'caliph' in Mosul's al-Nuri mosque. His men destroyed it four years later (AFP)

Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi was "confirmed" dead by a Syrian war monitor on Tuesday, in reports US officials said they could not corroborate but hoped were true.

The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said it had "confirmed information" from top Islamic State (IS) group leaders confirming the death of Baghdadi, who declared himself "caliph" in 2014.

However, it did not provide a date, location or cause of death for Baghdadi and the US-led coalition fighting IS in Syria and Iraq said it could not confirm the report. 

The Observatory, a trusted monitor of the war in Syria, said: "Top tier commanders from IS who are present in Deir Ezzor province have confirmed the death of Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi to the Observatory," the monitor's director Rami Abdel Rahman told the AFP news agency.

"We learned of it today but we do not know when he died or how."

Deir Ezzor, in eastern Syria, remains largely under IS control even as the group is losing territory elsewhere in the country and in neighbouring Iraq.

Abdel Rahman said Baghdadi "was present in eastern parts of Deir Ezzor province" in recent months, but it was unclear if he was killed in the area or elsewhere.

There was no official confirmation or denial of the news on social media platforms used by IS.

The US-led coalition said it could not verify the Observatory's report. "We cannot confirm this report, but hope it is true," said coalition spokesman Colonel Ryan Dillon.

"We strongly advise ISIS to implement a strong line of succession, it will be needed," he added, using a different acronym for IS.

Sebastian Gorka, deputy assistant to the US President Donald Trump, said: "We take any report of this nature with a large dose of salt.

"We will verify it. We will look at the intelligence available ... and we will give a statement when we have the requisite facts." 

There have been persistent rumours of Baghdadi's death in recent months, and Russia's military said in mid-June that it was seeking to verify whether it had killed the IS chief in an air strike in Syria in May.

Russia's army said Sukhoi warplanes carried out a 10-minute raid on 28 May at a location near the IS stronghold of Raqqa, where group leaders had gathered to plan a pullout from the area.

The US-led coalition also said at the time it could not confirm whether the Russian strike had killed Baghdadi.

The 46-year-old Iraqi-born leader of IS has not been seen in public since making his only known public appearance as "caliph" in 2014 at the al-Nuri mosque in Mosul.

IS destroyed the highly symbolic site before Iraqi forces could reach it as they pushed the group from Mosul, where Iraq's government formally declared victory on Monday.

With a $25m US bounty on his head, Baghdadi has kept a low profile and was rumoured to move regularly throughout IS-held territory in the area straddling Iraq and Syria.

His death, if confirmed, would be another heavy blow to the group which is also battling a US-backed coalition of Kurdish and Arab fighters for control of its Syrian stronghold Raqqa.