Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, the leader of the Islamic State (ISIS) jihadist group, is still alive but injury and poor health have forced him to relinquish control of the group, an Iraqi intelligence chief and U.S. officials said Monday, according to The Telegraph.
Baghdadi is hiding out in the desert on the Syrian side of the Syria-Iraq border northeast of Deir Ezzor province, said Abu Ali al-Basri, director general of Iraq’s intelligence and counter-terrorism office at the ministry of interior.
"We have irrefutable information and documents from sources within the terrorist organization that al-Baghdadi is still alive and hiding," Basri said.
He added the ISIS chief had suffered from “fractures and serious wounds” which were likely the result of previous airstrikes on the organization’s strongholds in Iraq and Syria.
Baghdadi, who also suffers from diabetes, is thought to have been left unable to walk unassisted from injuries incurred from a raid in 2015 which were exasperated by another last May, according to The Telegraph.
Basri described his condition as “severe”, saying he added that the jihadist had recently been admitted to a hospital in the Jazeera desert for his “deteriorating psychological state”.
In recent years,there have been endless conflicting reports about Baghdadi's whereabouts and about whether he is even alive.
The Russian Defense Ministry said several months ago that the ISIS leader might have been among a group of ISIS members who were killed in a Russian air strike south of Raqqa, ISIS's de facto capital in Syria.
The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights subsequently claimed it had "confirmed information" that Baghdadi has been killed, citing high-level ISIS commanders.
U.S. officials, however, have remained skeptical. U.S. Defense Secretary Jim Mattis said in late July he assumes that Baghdadi is still alive.
In September, ISIS released a recording of Baghdadi, presumably to refute reports of his death.
The most recent report, citing a Hezbollah-run media unit, said the ISIS leader was in the Syrian town of Albu Kamal during the Syrian army and its allies’ operation to clear it. The unit did not say what had happened to Baghdadi.
U.S. officials confirmed to CNN on Monday that while Baghdadi's injuries were not considered life-threatening they did mean he has not been able to continue to command the daily operations of the group.
Baghdadi, whose real name is Ibrahim Awad Ibrahim al-Badri, is thought to be communicating with the group’s followers via voice messages sent over encrypted app services.
ISIS retains a significant presence in the desert plains of northeastern Syria's Hasakeh province despite having lost most of its cross-border "caliphate" which once also covered a third of neighboring Iraq.
Hisham al-Hashimi, an adviser to the Iraqi government on its battle with ISIS, said that of the group's 43 founding members Baghdadi is the last one left, according to The Telegraph.
He said most of the group's most senior commanders had been killed, leaving the jihadist group without any real leadership.