Russia on Friday made room for doubt about the death of Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, the former leader of the Islamic State terrorist group also known as ISIS.
TASS, a press agency wholly owned by the Russian government, reported that one of its correspondents raised a question about Baghdadi’s death to a top Moscow official.
“We have no information or genetic samples that would prove this conclusively,” replied Sergei Naryshkin, director of the Russian Foreign Intelligence Service, TASS reported.
President Trump announced late last month that Baghdadi was killed during a U.S. special operation in Syria that culminated in him detonating a suicide vest.
“His body was mutilated by the blast, but test results gave certain and positive identification,” Mr. Trump said the next day on Oct. 27.
The U.S. Office of the Director of National Intelligence did not immediately reply to a message seeking comment about the TASS report, which quickly became fodder for other Russian government-friendly outlets.
The Federal News Agency, a website connected to the infamous “troll farm” accused of interfering in the 2016 U.S. presidential elections, published an article about the TASS report later Friday that said in Russian that Mr. Naryshkin’s remark “gives good reason to question” Baghdadi’s death. That article cited an earlier piece published by the same website, often abbreviated in Russia as FAN, that claims to contain seven reasons why the U.S. lied about liquidating Baghdadi, who has been previously falsely reported as dead.
In announcing Baghdadi’s death last month, Mr. Trump thanked Russia among other nations for providing assistance that allowed the operation to be a success.
“We told the Russians we were going in because we were going over them,” Mr. Trump said then. “And they were curious, but we said we’re coming. We said, ‘Look, one way or another we’re coming.’
“[The Russians] were very cooperative, they really were good” Mr. Trump added. “And we said it would be a mission they’d like, too, because they hate ISIS, too.”
Moscow cast doubt on Mr. Trump’s claims at the time, with the spokesperson for the Russian Defense Ministry issuing a statement last month that said it had “no reliable information” about the U.S. conducting an operation for “‘yet another’ elimination” of the Islamic State leader.