A representative for Iran's Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps confirmed the death of ISIS leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi June 29, following a Russian claim made earlier in June that al-Baghdadi may have been killed in a Russian airstrike May 28.
The news came from Ali Shirazi, a representative for Iranian Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei at the IRGC’s elite Quds Force.
"The death of this terrorist is certain," Shirazi said.
Al-Baghdadi has been listed as a terrorist by the U.S. Department of State since 2011. In 2014, he declared himself as caliph of an Islamic caliphate now known as the Islamic State. Prior to that, he had been the leader of the Islamic State of Iraq and Levant.
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Russian lawmaker Alexei Pushkov corroborated Shirazi's statement to Sputnik on June 29:
"According to the data of the Russian side the probability of al-Baghdadi's death is about 100 percent."
Pushkov reportedly received information from various sources that there is an internal power struggle for ISIS' top position.
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"If he were alive, then as a demonstration of power and as a means of increasing war morale, a refutation would have been already announced," Pushkov stated.
Russian forces have been indicating the possibility of al-Baghdadi's death since June 16, when the nation's defense ministry released a statement claiming the ISIS leader had been among 330 terrorists killed May 28 in a Russian-led airstrike south of the ISIS stronghold in Ragga.
According to Sputnik News, Syrian state television networks began reporting that al-Baghdadi had been killed by U.S.-led forces as early as June 11. Following the Russian's statement June 16, the U.S. could not confirm that al-Baghdadi had died, an Al Arabiya broadcaster reported.
On June 22, Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Oleg Syromolotov told Sputnik news that "information [about al-Baghdadi's death] is now verified through various channels." He stated:
"It is highly likely that [ISIS] leader al-Baghdadi was eliminated as a result of a Russian Aerospace Forces strike on the terrorists' command post in the southern suburb of the city of Raqqa in late May this year."
Sputnik reported that Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov could not confirm al-Baghdadi's death at the time.
Despite affirmative statements from Russia and Iran, many have remained skeptical that al-Baghdadi has really died.
"We don't have any concrete evidence on whether or not he's dead," U.S. Army Col. and ISIS fighter spokesman Ryan Dillon said in a Pentagon briefing.
Reuters reports that, if al-Baghdadi is dead, the top ISIS position will likely be taken by one of the caliph's two leading lieutenants, both of whom served as Iraqi army officers under Saddam Hussein.