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Russia Says It's Not '100 Percent' Sure Its Airstrike Killed ISIS Leader Al-Baghdadi

Russian officials say they have not confirmed that a strike on ISIS killed the extremist group's leader, Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, shown in 2014.

The Russian Defense Ministry says it may have killed ISIS leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi in a late May airstrike on an ISIS meeting in Raqqa, Syria. But the development has not been confirmed, Russian officials said Friday. In recent years, previous reports of Baghdadi's death have proved inaccurate.

"So far, I have no 100 percent confirmation of this information," Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov said, according to state-run Tass media, hours after defense officials posted a notice about the May 28 attack.

A spokesman for the U.S.-led coalition said of the Russian report, "We cannot confirm."

Russia's military said the strike targeted a meeting of senior commanders as they planned travel routes for extremist fighters forced out of the ISIS stronghold in Raqqa. The attack began after midnight and lasted around 10 minutes, the military said.

"According to information which is verified through various channels, the meeting was also attended by the leader of ISIS, Ibrahim Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, who was also killed during the airstrike," the defense ministry said earlier in the day.

The Russian military said the strike, carried out by two jets, killed up to 300 fighters and 30 field commanders, along with the ISIS head of security and two emirs who control Raqqa and a neighboring area.

Citing monitor group the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, Telegraph correspondent Josie Ensor said the group believes Baghdadi was in a different part of Syria when the Raqqa meeting was attacked.

In response to Russia's claim that its strike killed an ISIS emir named Ibrahim al-Nayif al-Hajj, the human rights group said, "this news is not true," adding that it believes Hajj was killed in an attack on May 24 at al-Baroudeh village.

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Bill Chappell is a writer and editor on the News Desk in the heart of NPR's newsroom in Washington, D.C.
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