DAMASCUS, Syria - Reports of the death of the controversial Islamic State leader, Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi spread as easily as the report of his being spotted alive.
Now, as Syria and Iraq declare the end of the era of terror and violence, a Hezbollah-run media unit has said that the ISIS leader al-Baghdadi was reported to have been in the Syrian town of Albu Kamal during the Syrian army and its allies’ operation to clear it.
While the military unit did not say what had happened to Baghdadi, or provide any details or sources, the U.S.-led coalition against Islamic State said on Friday it had no “releasable information” on Baghdadi’s whereabouts.
The Syrian army declared victory over Islamic State on Thursday, saying its capture of the jihadists’ last town in the country marked the collapse of their three-year rule in the region.
However, the Syrian army said that the army and its allies are still fighting Islamic State in desert areas close to Albu Kamal near the border with Iraq.
The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said Islamic State has taken back control of half of Albu Kamal on Friday.
An army statement said on Thursday that the capture of the border town had sealed “the fall of the terrorist Daesh organization’s project in the region.”
Earlier in September, when claims were being made by Russia that al-Baghdadi had been killed in an airstrike, an audio message purported to be from Baghdadi was released, raising further questions about his whereabouts and even the authenticity and origin of the tape.
It was also the first broadcast he had issued in 11 months, and called on the group’s supporters to continue fighting in its name despite its battlefield losses.
In June, the Russian Defense Ministry said it had killed Baghdadi in a May airstrike near the eastern city of Raqqa.
At the time, the U.S.-led coalition said it had seen no evidence that the ISIS leader was alive.
However, Kurdish intelligence chiefs have said they were “99 percent” sure that he remained alive.
Then, in July, the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said that senior Islamic State commanders had confirmed that Baghdadi had been killed in Deir al-Zour Province.
Last month, the American defense secretary, Jim Mattis said that he believed Baghdadi was still alive.
Pentagon officials too have said that Baghdadi did not appear to be directing the Islamic State’s forces on a day-to-day basis, but his death would be a blow to the organization.
In 2014, the ISIS leader declared himself caliph and heir to Islam’s historic leaders from the great medieval mosque in Iraq’s Mosul - beginning the era of terror in the region and beyond.
He announced the creation of a self-declared caliphate for the world’s Muslims, the Islamic State, from the pulpit of the famous Al-Nuri Mosque in the northern Iraqi city of Mosul.
His speech energized thousands of Muslims around the world to travel to Iraq and Syria and to take up arms for the militant group.
Since then, ISIS has suffered a series of territorial defeats and thousands of militants have either been killed or have sought to return home.