Iraqi security forces have killed a key Islamic State militant group (ISIS) figure associated with the global jihadi organization’s elusive leader, according to local and regional reports.
Iraq’s Al-Sumeria television network cited intelligence sources who said ISIS official Abu Walid al-Checheni was tracked and killed in an operation in the province of Kirkuk. Checheni was accused of actively plotting attacks against military and civilian targets, while Iraq attempted to wipe out the last of ISIS and prepare for next month’s elections.
“The security forces were able to kill the right arm of the terrorist Baghdadi, called Abu Walid al-Checheni…following precise intelligence on his location in a desert area on the outskirts of the city of Kirkuk where he planned terrorist attacks targeting civilians and security forces inside the city,” security sources told Al-Sumeria.
The report, which also appeared in Iranian and Syrian media, said that the operation to target Checheni led to the discovery of important documents that revealed the identities of other important ISIS figures. Al Araby Al Jadeed, a U.K.-based newspaper with ties to Qatar, cited Iraqi officials who said the operation could lead to clues as to where Baghdadi himself was hiding out.
Prior to becoming one of the world’s most wanted men, Baghdadi was a Sunni Muslim preacher known as Ibrahim Awad Ibrahim al-Badri al-Samarrai. After the 2003 U.S. invasion of Iraq and subsequent Fall of Baghdad, Baghdadi reportedly became involved in a growing insurgency of ultraconservative Sunni Muslim groups. The ranks of these groups grew as the new U.S.-led, mostly Shiite Muslim government purged Sunni Muslims and Baathist officials associated with the government of former Iraqi President Saddam Hussein.
Baghdadi was arrested in 2004 and was held in Camp Abu Ghraib and Camp Bucca, two facilities criticized for the way in which detainees were treated. He joined the Islamic State of Iraq, a merger of jihadi organizations that included Al-Qaeda in Iraq, and took over after the death of its leader in 2010.
Baghdadi changed the name to ISIS in 2013 after spreading his ultraconservative Sunni Islamist insurgency into neighboring Syria, where the West, Gulf Arab states and Turkey backed an uprising against Syrian President Bashar al-Assad. The ISIS leader made his only public appearance in an infamous global call-to-arms from Iraq’s second city of Mosul in July 2014, the year his group claimed about half of Iraq and Syria.
As ISIS lost nearly all of its territory in recent years, various reports of Baghdadi’s fate and whereabouts have surfaced. Russia claimed the jihadi leader was likely killed in an airstrike in the countryside of the group’s de facto capital of Raqqa last May, but no evidence supported the claim. The last supposed proof that Baghdadi was alive emerged last September when ISIS released a voice recording.
He did not appear when the U.S.-backed Syrian Democratic Forces took Raqqa city last October, nor when the Russia-backed Syrian military and its allies took the final ISIS city of Deir Ezzor and final ISIS town of Al-Bukamal late last year. U.S. and Iraqi officials have suggested he was hiding in the final pockets of ISIS territory between Iraq and Syria and may be injured.