Any movement by ISIS leader Abu Bakr al Bagdadi would help the US locate him
US military officials have said that recapturing Mosul would provide more intelligence
After months of no signs of ISIS leader Abu Bakr al Baghdadi, a US official told CNN on Thursday, “in the last few weeks we’ve been aware of some of Baghdadi’s movements.”
Unverified social media reports circulated in recent weeks that Baghdadi might have been injured or killed, but several US officials have said those reports are not accurate, and this latest information would indicate Baghdadi is still alive.
The official had access to some of the most recent US government reporting on ISIS, but because of the extreme sensitivity of the information, that official declined to offer more details. That includes whether intelligence indicates if he is in Syria or Iraq, or to what extent he is hiding. One longstanding theory by US officials is that Baghdadi has remained in Raqqa, Syria.
The report of Baghdadi’s movements was not a “real time” report and was an indication of where the leader had recently been, prior to the US receiving the report.
Nonetheless, under standard intelligence procedures, it now gives the US military and intelligence community the opportunity to go back and look at all reporting in the time and location he might have been at. They will try to glean additional leads and see if more information can be developed.
Because it is not a real time report of Baghdadi’s location, there is no direct intelligence being disclosed about current intelligence or operations. Intelligence officials occasionally disclose information knowing their targets will see it and perhaps decide to change locations. Any movement by Baghdadi would help the US locate him.
On December 16, the US increased the reward on Baghdadi from $10 to $25 million for information leading to his capture.
US military officials have said that recapturing Mosul would provide more intelligence on ISIS, so as Iraqi troops backed by US airstrikes and advisers seize parts of the city, it is likely that they are increasing the amount of intelligence collected, giving them a better picture of the terror group’s leadership.
“As we go to Mosul – they’ve been there two years,” Maj. Gen. Gary Volesky said in a Pentagon news briefing in October. “It’s their – their – you know, crown jewel of Iraq. Clearly, there’s going to be intelligence that will be able to be exploited once the – Daesh is defeated there, just as there’s been intelligence opportunities on the way up there.”
Coalition Commander Lt. Gen. Stephen J. Townsend said earlier this month that coalition operations are affecting Baghdadi’s life.
“We’re continually striking his command and control and key leaders daily,” he said at Qayyarah West Air Base in Iraq. “And we see that in our intelligence reporting that it’s affecting his life. And Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi probably wishes he had more direct command and control over his formation than he does right now.”
CNN’s Ryan Browne contributed to this report.