Lebanese Shiite militant group Hezbollah claimed on Friday that the leader of the Islamic State militant group (ISIS) Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi was spotted in a Syrian town that it liberated this week.
Its media unit said on Friday that the world’s most-wanted militant was seen during operations by its forces and the Syrian regime, which are being supported by the Russian air force, in the eastern town of Abu Kamal.
The military unit did not detail where it had seen him, in what scenario, or what the result of his sighting was, Reuters reported.
The U.S.-led coalition conducting air raids against ISIS in Iraq and Syria had not responded to a request for comment at the time of writing.
The Syrian military announced victory over ISIS in the country on Thursday after wrestling Abu Kamal from the jihadist group, in what it said was the group’s last stronghold and therefore the “fall of the terrorist Daesh organization’s project in the region.”
But the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, a U.K.-based monitoring group, said on Friday that ISIS fighters had recaptured half of the town.
The forces of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad are continuing to battle ISIS militants in desert areas surrounding Abu Kamal, where it still controls more than two dozen villages, SOHR chief Rami Abdelrahman tells Newsweek.
For months, speculation has raged about Baghdadi’s status as conflicting accounts emerged about his whereabouts and whether he remains alive.
ISIS leader Abu Bakr Al-Baghdadi making his first public appearance at a mosque in the center of Iraq’s second-largest city, Mosul, according to a video recording posted online on July 5, 2014. Reuters/Social Media Website via Reuters TV
The Russian Defense Ministry said in June that it had killed Baghdadi in a May airstrike near the eastern city of Raqqa.
The U.S.-led coalition at the time said it had seen no evidence that he was alive. But Kurdish intelligence chiefs said they were “99 percent” sure that he remained alive.
ISIS, in September, released an audio message purporting to be from Baghdadi, the first broadcast he had issued in 11 months. He called for the group’s supporters to continue fighting in its name despite its battlefield losses.
The U.S. has issued a $25 million reward for any information leading to Baghdadi’s capture or death.
He is the man who announced the creation of the Islamic State, a self-declared caliphate for the world’s Muslims, from the pulpit of the famous Al-Nuri Mosque in the northern Iraqi city of Mosul.
The speech, delivered in July 2014, energized thousands of Muslims around the world to travel to Iraq and Syria and to take up arms for the militant group. In the years since, ISIS has suffered a series of territorial defeats and thousands of militants have either been killed or have sought to return home.