BEIRUT -- The fate of Islamic State group leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi is still unknown after reports over the weekend that he was wounded in an airstrike in Iraq. On Sunday, Iraqi airstrikes in Anbar province in the west, which was overrun by ISIS militants more than a year ago, targeted a convoy of militant leaders that possibly included Baghdadi.
The self-styled caliph of the terrorist group, also known as ISIS, was wounded in the strike, the Sunni tribal council of Anbar said Monday. On the same day, however, the Iraqi government also made a statement that Baghdadi was most likely not even in the convoy that had been hit by airstrikes.
"After assessing all information we received from our sources, it’s more likely that the convoy we struck was not carrying Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi," an Iraqi official told Reuters.
On Sunday, the Iraqi Ministry of Defense announced that its air force had bombed Baghdadi’s convoy while it was headed toward the Syrian border for a meeting. The militant leader was removed from the scene of the bombing after his convoy was attacked, Reuters reported.
“Iraqi air forces have bombed the convoy of the terrorist Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi while he was heading to Karabla to attend a meeting with Daesh [ISIS] commanders,” the statement said. “The location of the meeting was also bombed and many of the group’s leaders were killed and wounded.”
Eight senior ISIS leaders were killed in the bombing, said Abu Saad al-Karbouli, a senior local Islamic State policeman.
Similar claims about Baghdadi have been made several times since the U.S. launched a multi-country coalition to defeat the militant group more than a year ago. In May 2015, he was reportedly wounded when a U.S. airstrike hit a town near Mosul, a northern Iraqi city and ISIS stronghold.
Baghdadi also was reported dead after U.S. coalition airstrikes targeted militants in November 2014. Before he was confirmed to be alive, many speculated on whether the death of their leader would have a significant impact on the militant group. His loss would dent the group’s morale, but a new leader would be appointed “without operational delay,” experts said at the time.
“ISIS has likely prepared for Baghdadi’s succession. ISIS has undergone changes in structure during different phases of the group’s evolution,” Lauren Squires of the Institute for the Study of War recently told International Business Times. “They are forward-leaning and -thinking. It would be shortsighted to think that planning a successor is not only part of their logistical plan but their ideological plan, too.”