(Reuters) ISIS enigmatic leader is thought to have gone to ground to focus on his own survival, as his self-declared caliphate crumbles around him.
U.S. and Iraqi intelligence sources telling Reuters that Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi appears to have abandoned his followers in Mosul, leaving them to fight a losing battle. This ISIS photo purporting to show him delivering a sermon in the city last November, just weeks after its seige began. Expressing confidence in victory; It would be the last known footage of him. Since then there’s been a sharp decline in the militants’ communications, including propaganda.
And the postings that do go up make little mention of Mosul. The intelligence sources say the drop in chatter from ISIS leadership, and the massive gains by coalition forces in the four-month seige, suggest he’s fled the city. An elusive target, they believe he now changes locations constantly – multiple times in one day – likely hiding among civilians in isolated villages, rather with his hardcore fighters.
The last official report on his whereabouts came from an Iraqi air strike on a house near the Syrian border weeks ago. This video said to show his supporters who’ve remained behind. With Mosul’s fall imminent and a battle raging for ISIS stronghold in Syria, Raqqa, the group is now expected to move underground – Similar to the al Qaeda insurgency that hit Iraq after the the U.S. invasion in 2003. Baghdadi is a former al Qaeda leader. And those intelligence sources say he’s learned from his predecessors’ mistakes.