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Kurdish security official says IS chief almost certainly still alive

(FILES) This image grab taken from a propaganda video released on July 5, 2014 allegedly shows the leader of the Islamic State jihadist group, Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi
- (AL-FURQAN MEDIA/AFP/File)
Baghdadi's death has been reported several times since 2015, but never confirmed

A top Kurdish counter-terrorism official says they he believes Islamic State leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi is almost certainly still alive and located south of the groups Syrian stronghold Raqqa, despite numerous reports of his death over the past few months.

"Baghdadi is definitely alive. He is not dead. We have information that he is alive. We believe 99 percent he is alive," senior counter-terrorism official Lahur Talabany told Reuters in an interview.

"Don't forget his roots go back to al Qaeda days in Iraq. He was hiding from security services. He knows what he is doing."

The death of the Islamic State supremo has been falsely reported several times since both Russia and a US-led air coalition began hammering IS positions in Syria and Iraq in 2015.

Most recently, the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, a longtime monitor of the country's conflict, said it had information from top IS leaders confirming Baghdadi's death.

- (AL-FURQAN MEDIA/AFP/Archives)

And in mid-June, Russia's defense ministry said that it was "highly likely" it had killed the group's self-declared 'caliph' in a May airstrike outside Raqqa and was seeking confirmation.

Pentagon chief Jim Mattis said Friday that the US has no proof that Baghdadi has indeed been killed, and the US-led coalition fighting IS in Iraq and Syria has repeatedly cast doubt on such claims.

"If we knew, we would tell you -- right now, I can't confirm or deny it," Mattis said. "Our approach is we assume he's alive until it's proven otherwise, and right now I can't prove it otherwise."

There has been no official confirmation or denial of any of the reports on social media platforms used by IS.

With a $25 million US bounty on his head, Baghdadi has kept a low profile but was rumored to move regularly throughout IS-held territory in Iraq and Syria.

The 46-year-old Iraqi has not been seen since making his only known public appearance as "caliph" in 2014 at the Grand Mosque of Al-Nuri in Mosul, which was destroyed in the battle for Iraq's second city.

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