Top ISIS leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi has reportedly been seriously wounded after a U.S.-led air strike over western Iraq.
The leader of the Islamic State suffered grave injuries that had many ISIS fighters concerned that he would die, reports the Guardian.
The attack took place in al-Baaj, which is located near the Syrian border, in March, and it is believed that three men were killed in the ambush, which targeted local ISIS leaders. At the time, the U.S. military didn't know al-Baghdadi was traveling in one of the cars that had been hit. the Guardian reports. Two officials, one from Iraq and one Westerner, reportedly confirmed that the airstrike had targeted several cars, reports Business Insider.
Al-Baghdadi had chosen the al-Baaj area of Iraq as a hiding spot because "he knew from the war that the Americans did not have much cover there," one source told the Guardian.
The prominent leader, who declared that the land between eastern Aleppo and central Iraq is part of a Caliphate that he leads, has been a target for the U.S. for some time. Initial reports that he was wounded both in November and then in December turned out to be inaccurate. Because of his high profile, the Islamic State's military and Shura councils have assumed greater leadership roles.
Iraqi official Hisham al-Hashimi told the Guardian, "Yes, he was wounded in al-Baaj," but U.S. officials have been unable to confirm the validity of this claim. A Pentagon spokesman said that they have "nothing to confirm this report," and defense officials told the Daily Beast that they have "no reason to believe it was Baghdadi."
Al-Baghdadi has served as ISIS's official leader since 2010, when he and a group of former Iraqi intelligence officers reportedly decided that his religious background as a cleric would help make him the "religious face" of Islamic State.
The leader has been on the U.S. radar since at least 2004, when U.S. forces detained al-Baghdadi in Fallujah before taking him to Camp Bucca. At that time, he was ultimately released because Americans determined he was not a threat.