Russia says it may have killed ISIS leader in airstrike

Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi
FILE - This file image made from video posted on a militant website Saturday, July 5, 2014, purports to show the leader of the Islamic State group, Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, delivering a sermon at a mosque in Iraq during his first public appearance. The Russian military claims it has killed the leader of the Islamic State group in an airstrike. The ministry said Friday, June 16, 2017, that Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi was killed in a Russian strike in late May along with other senior group commanders. (AP Photo/Militant video, File)

MOSCOW (CBS News/AP) – Russia said Friday that the leader of the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS) was believed to have been killed in an airstrike on a meeting of the group’s leaders just outside its de facto capital in Syria.

The Russian Defense Ministry said it was seeking to verify information that Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi was killed in a Russian strike in late May along with other senior group commanders.

If confirmed, it would mark a major military success for Russia, which has conducted a military campaign in support of Syrian President Bashar Assad since September 2015.

The U.S.-led anti-ISIS military coalition said Friday that it could not immediately confirm the Russian claims, and two U.S. defense officials told CBS News they also had no information to back up the reports.

The ministry said the air raid on May 28 that targeted an ISIS meeting held on the southern outskirts of Raqqa in Syria also killed about 30 mid-level militant leaders and about 300 other fighters.

The ministry said the strike came as ISIS leaders gathered to discuss the group’s withdrawal from Raqqa, its de facto capital.

It said the military began planning the hit after getting word that the ISIS leaders were going to gather for a meeting to plan their exit to the south.

The Russian military sent drones to monitor the area and then dispatched a group of Su-34 bombers and Su-35 fighter jets to hit the ISIS gathering.

“According to the information that is being verified through various channels, ISIS leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi also attended the meeting and was killed in the airstrike,” it said in a statement.

The ministry added that it had warned the U.S. “in advance through interaction channels about the time and place of the Russian airstrike,” according to French news agency AFP.

The ministry said that among other militant leaders killed in the raid were ISIS leaders Abu al-Khadji al-Mysri, Ibrahim al-Naef al-Khadj and Suleiman al-Shauah.

Al-Baghdadi became the head of ISIS almost by default as the terror group evolved from what had been al Qaeda in Iraq. There have been previous unconfirmed reports of his demise that proved incorrect.

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