A top U.S. counterterrorism official says despite claims and rumors, there is nothing to indicate the leader of the Islamic State terror group is dead.
In recent weeks, Russia, Syria, Iran and a Syrian human rights organization claimed IS leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdai had been killed; but, National Counterterrorism Center Director Nick Rasmussen said Friday there is no evidence to support such claims.
“I’ve seen nothing that would lead me to believe that the leader of ISIS has been removed from the battlefield,” Rasmussen told an audience at a security forum in Aspen, Colorado, using an acronym for the terror group.
“We know a good bit,” he added, regarding U.S. intelligence on the group’s self-proclaimed caliph. “We just don’t have information that would confirm his death or demise.”
Rasmussen is at least the third high-ranking U.S. official to push back against rumors that Baghdadi has been killed.
The commander of the anti-IS coalition in Iraq was the first to dismiss the claims.
“I don’t have a clue. Simple as that,” Lt. Gen. Stephen Townsend told Pentagon reporters during a video briefing from Baghdad on July 11.
On July 14, U.S. Defense Secretary Jim Mattis reiterated Townsend’s assessment.
“Until we prove it, we don’t speculate that he’s dead,” Mattis told reporters.
Some analysts have also suggested IS leaders have tried to signal to supporters that Baghdadi is still in charge.
“The new issue of Islamic State’s weekly publication, al-Naba, contains several references to al-Baghdadi which are intended to convey he remains alive,” according to Michael S. Smith II, a terrorism analyst who specializes in the influence operations of IS and al-Qaida, in an email earlier this week.