ISIS have been accused of covering up the death of its talismanic leader in a desperate bid to prevent morale collapsing among its fighters.
Reports circulating earlier this week said Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi had been killed in a U.S. air strike in the terror group’s Syrian stronghold of Raqqa.
His death would be a devastating blow for the jihadists at a time when they are losing swathes of territory and hundreds of millions of dollars in lost oil revenue in the face of coalition air strikes.
The Al-Hashd al-Shaabi militia, a group of Iraqi Shi’a paramilitary forces, said it was still trying to verify reports of al-Baghdadi’s death, it was reported by Iraqi News.
In a statement, it said: ‘ISIS is working to hide its leader’s death due to the sizable amount of loss that has been inflicted upon it in the recent past.
‘Some Arab and foreign media indicated to the injury of ISIS leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, while other media confirmed his death in the Syrian city of al-Raqqa.
‘The intelligence of al-Hashd al-Shaabi is working to verify this information.
ISIS are waging a desperate last stand to hold the city of Fallujah and are losing ground around its other Iraqi stronghold of Mosul as the Iraqi army backed by U.S.-led air strikes dent their territory.
The number of foreign fighters joining ISIS in Iraq and Syria has decreased sharply in the past year to about 200 a month from between 1,500 and 2,000.
And U.S. Air Force Major General Peter Gersten said last month that the number of fighters defecting from ISIS was increasing as well, but he did not give a specific number.
Reports of the leader’s death, carried by the respected Turkish daily Yenis Safak, comes only days after 49 people were killed in an Orlando nightclub by a man pledging allegiance to ISIS.