'IS chief still in Mosul' claims Iraqi intelligence

'IS chief still in Mosul' claims Iraqi intelligence
Iraq's head of intelligence said that he believes IS leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi is still in Mosul, despite earlier claims he had fled the besieged city.
3 min read
17 December, 2016
Operations to liberate Mosul from Islamic State group militants began in October [AFP] de

Islamic State group leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi is currently hiding underground around the besieged city, an Iraqi counter-terrorism official has claimed.

Baghdadi likely remained in the city, and is currently hiding in an underground bunker, Maj. Gen. Fadhil Jalil Barwari said, adding that Iraqi intelligence cannot pin-point his exact location.

This comes after reports from activists and the Iraqi army's press service that Baghdadi had fled the city, with rumours claiming that he had relocated to IS de facto capital in the city of Raqqa, across the Syrian border. 

At that time UK Foreign Minister Boris Johnson also claimed that western intelligence sources had indicated that Baghdadi was no longer in Mosul.

Speaking on Friday, Barwari, head of the Iraqi Counter Terrorism Bureau, said that the IS chief - who has a $25 million US levied bounty on his head - remained in the vicinity of Mosul. 

"We believe he is now in Biaj, west of Mosul, hiding in an underground bunker. He changes his location all the time, and he also changes his appearance," said Barwari, adding that as Baghdadi was detained by Iraqi authorities ten years ago Iraqi forces "have enough information to track him".

The IS leader remains shrouded in mystery and rarely makes public appearances. It is believed that he was born near the Iraqi city of Samarra in 1971 before later moving to Baghdad where he studied at the Islamic University.

According to official statements by the US department of defence, Baghdadi was detained at the notorious Abu Ghraib and Camp Bucca in 2004 for a number of months before he was released having been deemed a "low-level [risk] prisoner". 

A number of other high-ranking IS officials were interred at Camp Bucca which has been called the "birthplace" of IS. 

More than 100,000 men are estimated to have passed through the camp between 2003 and 2009. 

Later in 2010, Baghdadi became leader of the Islamic State of Iraq - also known as al-Qaeda in Iraq - before the extremist group expanded into Syria in 2013. It broke ties with al-Qaeda and renamed itself the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant.

Current offensives on Mosul which involve the Iraqi army, Kurdish Peshmerga, and Shia militia forces began in October. After initial rapid advances towards the city, progress has slowed as IS fighters hunker down in defensive positions in the city. 

Speaking this week Najm al-Jubouri, commander of Mosul operations, claimed that more than 4,000 IS members had been killed since operations to liberate the city began.

But Iraqi forces have also recorded rising death tolls, with reports that 2,000 Iraqi military personnel were killed in the country during November alone.