UPDATED: 12:30 p.m. EDT — Without mentioning whether Islamic State leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi was killed from airstrikes in Syria, President Barack Obama announced Tuesday during a press conference that the U.S. was continuing successfully to put a prominent dent in the terror group also known as ISIS.
The Islamic State's "ranks are at their lowest level in two and a half years," Obama proclaimed shortly after announcing that "our mission is to destroy ISIL," another acronym for the terror group. In fact, Obama said, it has been more than a year since ISIS' most recent successful terror operation in Syria or Iraq.
Even further, 120 ISIS leaders have been "taken out" but the U.S.-led coalition.
Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, the leader of the Islamic State group, may have been killed recently during a series of airstrikes led by the United States in Syria. Media reports circulated Tuesday morning that al-Baghdadi, who has been in charge of the extremist organization known as ISIS for about two years, had died over the weekend. But experts warned readers to take the news with a heavy dose of skepticism.
The rumors started Monday when the Shia Ahlul Bayt News Agency published an article about al-Baghdadi's demise, citing Arabic media and al-Amaq, an outlet with ties to ISIS. “Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi has been killed by coalition airstrikes on Raqqa on the fifth day of Ramadan,” the al-Amaq statement reportedly read.
The news followed an Express story claiming al-Baghdadi had been wounded when his convoy was hit near Nineveh, Iraq, this past Thursday. In addition, in early May, the Guardian reported al-Baghdadi was "incapacitated" due to spine injuries he received in March.
However, news of al-Baghdadi's alleged death was met Tuesday with serious suspicion. Army Col. Chris Garver, the public affairs chief of the U.S.-led coalition against ISIS, told USA Today he had heard international media were sharing the report, but he could not confirm that it was true. Others wrote similar messages on social media warning people not to believe al-Baghdadi was dead.
"This '#IS statement' on Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi's death is one of the shoddiest fakes I've ever seen," said Charlie Winter, a research associate and jihadist movement expert at Georgia State University.
In any case, taking out al-Baghdadi was certainly a priority for the American government. CIA chief John Brennan told Meet the Press this month that he had "no doubt" ISIS could be destroyed. “We have to remove the leadership that directs the organization to carry out these horrific attacks,” he said. “If we got Baghdadi, I think it would have a great impact on the organization. And it will be felt by them."