Daesh leader Baghdadi, world’s ‘most wanted’, sought in Syria offensive

US-backed forces have launched an offensive on Daesh’s last stronghold in eastern Syria, but the man dubbed the world’s “most wanted” could yet again slip through the net, experts warn. (AFP / AL-FURQAN MEDIA)
Updated 21 September 2018
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Daesh leader Baghdadi, world’s ‘most wanted’, sought in Syria offensive

  • There have been recurring reports of Baghdadi being killed or injured, but the elusive leader is believed to be still alive.
  • In August, he resurfaced in a purported new audio recording in which he urged his followers to keep up the fight despite Daesh having lost around 90 percent of the territory it held at the height of its reign of terror.

PARIS: US-backed forces have launched an offensive on Daesh’s last stronghold in eastern Syria, but the man dubbed the world’s “most wanted” — Daesh leader Abu Bakr Al-Baghdadi — could yet again slip through the net, experts warn.
There have been recurring reports of Baghdadi being killed or injured, but the elusive leader, whose only known public appearance dates to July 2014 when he proclaimed a cross-border caliphate from the pulpit of a mosque in the Iraqi city of Mosul, is believed to be still alive.
In August, he resurfaced in a purported new audio recording in which he urged his followers to keep up the fight despite Daesh having lost around 90 percent of the territory it held at the height of its reign of terror.
He also urged them to continue waging lone-wolf attacks in the West.
In May, a senior Iraqi intelligence official told AFP that Baghdadi had been moving discreetly between villages and towns east of the Euphrates river in Deir Ezzor province, near the Iraqi border.
He was traveling in a small group of “four or five people” including male relatives, the official said.
Iraqi political commentator Hisham Al-Hashemi, an expert on the Sunni extremist group, said his security sources told him Baghdadi was hiding out in the Syrian desert and regularly moved between Al-Baaj in northwest Iraq and Hajjin in Syria’s southeast.
As the caliphate crumbled, Iraqi forces and coalition-backed forces in Syria have killed or captured several Daesh leaders.
On Wednesday an Iraqi presented as Baghdadi’s deputy, Ismail Alwan Salman Al-Ithawi, was sentenced to death by a court in Iraq after being apprehended in Turkey and extradited as part of a joint Turkish-Iraqi-US operation.
In May, Iraqi forces claimed to have captured five top Daesh commanders in a cross-border sting.
The US-backed Kurdish-Arab alliance launched Operation Roundup last week, the third phase of a year-old operation to clear southeastern Syria of its last Daesh holdouts, in an area around the Euphrates extending around 50 kilometers (30 miles) into Syria.
“This is the last bastion for Daesh’s mercenaries,” Zaradasht Kobani, a Kurdish commander with the Kurdish-led Syrian Democratic Forces, told AFP.
“We will eliminate them here,” he said.
But reeling in Baghdadi will not be simple, said Hassan Hassan, a senior research fellow at the Program on Extremism at the George Washington University in Washington.
“He and his group learned from previous mistakes that led to the killing of the top two leaders in 2010, (al-Baghdadi’s predecessor) Abu Omar Al-Baghdadi, and his war minister Abu Hamza Al-MuHajjir,” Hassan told AFP.
“This means that only a very few and highly-trusted people know where he is.”
The mountains, desert, river valleys and villages of the border area provide “several possible hideouts,” Hassan noted.
 


Russia says Syrian government forces has halted fire in Idlib

Updated 20 May 2019
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Russia says Syrian government forces has halted fire in Idlib

  • The last round of violence also displaced some 180,000 in opposition-held areas
DAMASCUS: Syrian government forces have unilaterally ceased fire in the northern Idlib province, the last major opposition stronghold, Russia said on Sunday, while opposition activists reported continued shelling and airstrikes.
Fighting erupted in Idlib late last month, effectively shattering a cease-fire negotiated by Russia and Turkey that had been in place since September. Russia has firmly backed Syria’s Bashar Assad regime in the eight-year civil war, while Turkey has supported the opposition.
In a brief statement on Sunday, the Russian Defense Ministry’s Center for Reconciliation of the Warring Sides in Syria said regime forces had ceased fire as of midnight. It described the move as unilateral, but did not give details.
The pro-government Syrian Central Military Media said regime forces responded to shelling by militants on Sunday on the edge of Idlib. It gave no further details.
The Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, an opposition war monitoring group, reported an airstrike on the town of Khan Sheikhoun, saying it inflicted casualties.
The opposition’s Syrian Civil Defense also reported shelling near the town of Jisr Al-Shughour without reporting any casualties.
Syrian government forces intensified their attacks as of April 30 on Idlib. The area is home to some 3 million people, many of whom are internally displaced. The last round of violence also displaced some 180,000 in opposition-held areas.