Though the country's foreign minister later said there was not "100 percent confirmation," the Russian military on Friday claimed it may have killed Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, leader of the Islamic State (ISIS), with an airstrike in Syria last month.
If confirmed, al-Baghdadi's death could be major blow to ISIS as its two remaining strongholds in Mosul, Iraq and Raqqa, Syria are both under bombardment. As both U.S. coalition forces and the Russian, who are backing the Syrian government against ISIS and other rebel forces, have committed to the destruction of ISIS, civilians have been caught in the crossfire since the militant group seized territory in both Iraq and Syria in 2014.
- Statement from the Russian Defense Ministry, via state news agency TASS: "The airstrike was carried out overnight to May 28 against a command post, where the IS group's leaders were meeting to discuss the routes for the terrorists'exit from Raqqa through the so-called southern corridor."
- Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov's note of caution: "So far, I have no one-hundred-percent confirmation of the information that Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi has been killed."
- Other cautions, from Reuters: "A colonel with the Iraqi national security service told Reuters Baghdadi was not believed to have been in Raqqa at the time of the strike in late May. One of Baghdadi's aides may have been killed rather than Baghdadi himself, the colonel said." It's not the first time al-Baghdadi has been reported killed (here and here).
- Growing civilian casualties in Syria and Iraq: Despite bombings by either Russian or U.S.-backed forces that may strike their intended targets, civilian casualties are climbing. "We have been killing a lot of civilians in and around Raqqa for quite some time now, yet these incidents are rarely admitted by the coalition and there is almost no interest from international media," said Chris Woods of Airwars this week. "We have to question where the empathy is for the local population."
- White phosphorus: Members of the U.S. coalition condemned by Human Rights Watch for using toxic gas in Mosul and other densely populated areas. "No matter how white phosphorus is used, it poses a high risk of horrific and long-lasting harm in crowded cities like Raqqa and Mosul and any other areas with concentrations of civilians," said Steve Goose, the group's arms director.