Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi’s fate still unknown after US air strike on Isis as Iraqi forces enter Baiji

Iraqi forces reach centre of northern city of Baiji in attempt to break the Isis siege of the country’s biggest refinery

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The Independent Online

Authorities in Iraq were tonight investigating claims that the Isis leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi had been “critically injured” in US-led air strikes, prompting speculation of his death.

The death of the elusive leader would mark a significant change in the US-led effort to curtail the Islamist extremist group. Britain’s chief of the defence staff, General Sir Nicholas Houghton, warned, however, that the Isis leadership would regenerate even if Baghdadi had been killed.

General Houghton told the BBC: “I can’t absolutely confirm that Baghdadi has died. Even the Americans themselves are not yet in a position to do that. Probably it will take some days to have absolute confirmation.”

Friday’s strikes destroyed an Isis convoy near the Iraqi city of Mosul, but US officials said it was unclear whether the group’s top commander had been in any of the 10 targeted vehicles. Tribal sources told the Saudi news channel Al Arabiya that after the strike Isis members scrambled to transport the wounded to al-Qaim hospital which was overwhelmed with the injured.

 

Meanwhile, Iraqi military forces reached the centre of the northern city of Baiji on Sunday, trying to break the Isis siege of the country’s biggest refinery, outside the city. This led to fierce fighting. Sunni insurgents had seized Baiji in June, during a lightning advance through northern Iraq. Since then, they surrounded the refinery and halted its production, while a detachment of government troops inside has held out for months under siege.

An Iraqi colonel said troops had entered Baiji, a city of about 200,000 people, from the south and west and took over the al-Tamim neighbourhood and city centre. Isis had placed bombs along the roads and deployed snipers to keep the government forces from advancing – tactics used in other cities held by the ultra-hardline Sunni group, which controls swathes of both Iraq and Syria.

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