UPDATE: 12:34 p.m. EDT -- Several senior leaders of the Islamic State group were believed to have been killed in an airstrike in western Iraq Sunday, but the militant group's leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi did not appear to be among them, according to local residents and hospital sources cited by Reuters.
The Iraqi military said Sunday its forces struck a convoy carrying Islamic State group leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi in the country's western Anbar province, close to the border with Syria. Al-Baghdadi's fate remained unknown, and the strike could not be independently verified.
"The Iraqi air force carried out a heroic operation targeting the convoy of the criminal terrorist Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi," Iraq's security forces said in a joint statement cited by Agence France-Presse.
The statement indicated the convoy was struck as it was moving toward the Iraqi town of Karabla for a meeting with senior leaders of the militant group formerly known as either ISIL or ISIS. The operation was reportedly coordinated with Iraq's interior ministry intelligence services and the joint operations command center, Ahram Online reported. The location of the meeting was also bombed, and many of the leaders present were killed, according to the statement.
Iraq claims "many Daish leaders killed" in air force bombing of Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi's convoy in Anbar. pic.twitter.com/NDm0C92BoP
— Borzou Daragahi (@borzou) October 11, 2015
Rumors of al-Baghdadi's death have surfaced several times over the years. There were reports this year that he had been killed by a U.S.-led coalition airstrike, which turned out to be untrue. And Iraq's military released a statement last year saying he had been injured in an airstrike, which was never verified.
Al-Baghdadi has maintained a low profile since the Islamic State group emerged as a significant political force in Iraq and Syria, scarcely showing his face in public or on video. The militant group has seized large swaths of Iraq and Syria, managing to withstand a heavy bombing campaign by U.S.-led coalition and Iraqi forces.
The Islamic State group is known for its strict interpretation of Islamic law, enforcing a rigid penal code in areas under its control. A U.S. program aimed at training Syrian rebels to fight the militant group was ended Friday, three weeks after it emerged that only four or five rebels continued fighting out of a group of more than 50 graduates of the program. However, the U.S. still provides support for other rebels fighting the Islamic State group on the ground.
Washington has offered a $10 million reward for al-Baghdadi's capture.