Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, the leader of the Islamic State, is still alive but injury and poor health has forced him to relinquish control of the terror group, according to an Iraqi intelligence chief and US officials.
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 organisation that al-Baghdadi is still alive and hiding,” Mr Basri was quoted on Monday in the government daily As-Sabah.
The official said the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (Isil) chief had suffered from “fractures and serious wounds” which were likely the result of previous airstrikes on the organisation’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.
Mr 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”.
Russia had claimed it killed the reclusive leader, who has not been seen in public since declaring Isil’s caliphate from the Iraqi city of Mosul in July 2014, in an air strike on a meeting of senior Isil commanders near Raqqa on May 28.
However it offered no evidence to back up the claim and it was questioned by the US-led coalition against Isil at the time.
US officials confirmed to CNN 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. His last public message was in September last year.
In the 46-minute audio, he called on supporters to carry out attacks on the West.
Baghdadi’s whereabouts has been the subject of much speculation since the group’s defeat in all its former major strongholds in Iraq and Syria.
The 46-year-old was believed to be holding up near Baaj, west of Mosul, until the US-backed Iraqi army offensive on the area in the spring of last year.
Since then he is thought to have been moving around villages along the Syria-Iraq border still under Isil’s control.
The Telegraph was told by a resident of the village of Jdaidet al-Okaibat in the outskirts of Deir Ezzor that he appeared on June 24 last year for Ramadan prayers, where he greeted followers and appeared “in good spirits”.
Haider al-Abadi, Iraq’s prime minister, declared final victory over Isil late last year but stressed Iraqis to stay vigilant as sleeper cells and insurgencies remain a threat.
Isil 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 neighbouring Iraq.
Since the end of the offensives in Raqqa and Deir Ezzor – when thousands of fighters fled west – Isil had been taking advance of chaos elsewhere in Syria to regroup.
There have been reports of the group launching numerous attacks against Syrian troops in Hama province.
Hisham al-Hashimi, an adviser to the Iraqi government on its battle with Isil, said that of the group’s 43 founding members Baghdadi is the last one left.
He said most of Isil’s most senior commanders had been killed, leaving the jihadist group without any real leadership.
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