Russia’s defence ministry is investigating whether Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, the leader of the Islamic State (IS) militant group was killed in one of its air strikes in northern Syria.
The airstrike on May 28 was carried out on the outskirts of the group’s de facto capital Raqqa, on a command post where ISIS leaders were meeting, according to the statement from the ministry. It also said that the air strike may have killed Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi and up to 330 other fighters.
The Russian air force launched an air strike between 00:35 and 00:45 local time (21:35 and 21:45 GMT 27 May), after notifying the US military in advance. Sukhoi Su-35 fighters and Sukhoi Su-34 attack jets were used in the strike, which was preceded by drone reconnaissance flights, the ministry said.
There have been a number of previous reports of Baghdadi’s death. This is the first time, however, that Russia has said it may have killed the IS leader. Other media reports have previously claimed he had been killed or critically injured by US-led coalition air strikes.
Forces opposed to IS have been closing in on Raqqa in recent weeks.
Russia sent an air force contingent to Syria in September 2015 to shore up President Bashar al-Assad, bombing both IS and other rebel groups opposed to the government.
The US-led coalition said on Friday it could not confirm whether Baghdadi had been killed. There has been no official comment from Syria’s government.
Baghdadi is believed to have been born in Samarra, north of Baghdad, in 1971. He emerged as the leader of al-Qaeda in Iraq, one of the groups that later became Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (IS), in 2010. In October 2011, the US officially designated Baghdadi as a terrorist. It has offered a reward of up to $25m (£19.6m) for information leading to his capture or death.