The elusive leader of the jihadist terrorist Islamic State (ISIS) was wounded in a U.S.-led coalition air strike in Iraq last month, two reports say.
Citing unnamed sources, the Guardian reports
Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi was seriously hurt in a March 18 strike near the Syrian border, suffering life-threatening injuries from which he's made a slow recovery — though he hasn't resumed control of ISIS.
The newspaper reports the strike hit a three-car convoy, and is believed to have killed three men; it wasn't initially known that Baghdadi was in one of the cars.
"Yes, he was wounded in al-Baaj near the village of Umm al-Rous on 18 March with a group that was with him," Hisham al-Hashimi, an Iraqi official told the Guardian.
The U.S.-led coalition has for months been carrying out strikes
on ISIS positions in Iraq and Syria.
citing a spokesman for the Iraqi interior ministry, also reports Baghdadi — known as "the invisible sheikh" — was seriously hurt in a March coalition air strike, but gave no further details. The BBC notes Baghdadi has taken great care to reveal little about himself and his location — and that even his own fighters don't speak to him face-to-face.
A Pentagon spokesman said U.S. officials were not immediately able to confirm the reports.
According to the Guardian, the ISIS leader was apparently spending much of his time in al-Baaj, a Sunni tribal area about 200 miles from the ISIS stronghold of Mosul.
"He chose this area because he knew from the war that the Americans did not have much cover there," one unnamed source told the Guardian. "From 2003 [the U.S. military] barely had a presence there. It was the one part of Iraq that they hadn’t mapped out."
The Guardian notes the terror group's leader had at least one other brush with death when U.S. jets hit a two-car convoy on the outskirts of Mosul last Dec. 14; a Baghdadi aide, Auf Abdul Rahman al-Efery, was killed.
Baghdadi's deputy and the head of the group's military operations in Iraq were both killed earlier last December, the newspaper reports.
ISIS is losing ground in both Iraq and Syria, the Pentagon maintains.
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