Washington : US Defence Secretary James Mattis said he believes Islamic State leader Abu Bakr al- Baghdadi is still alive, shooting down claims he was killed in an air strike.

“I think Baghdadi’s alive… And I’ll believe otherwise when we know we’ve killed him,” Mattis said.

“But, we’re going after him. We assume he’s alive,” he told reporters on Friday.    Last month, the Russian military claimed it had struck a meeting of Baghdadi on May 28 near Raqqa, Syria, in which Baghdadi was possibly killed. Multiple other reports in recent weeks have suggested that Baghdadi was killed in Iraq or Syria. Since making his public appearance as “caliph” in 2014, he has not been seen.

Pentagon officials have said that Baghdadi no longer is involved in the Islamic State’s day-to-day operations. Mattis, however, said Baghdadi still has a role to play in the outfit. Responding to other questions on Afghanistan, the Pentagon chief said the policy review is not complete yet.

He said he has not used the presidential authorisation to increase the troop number in the war-torn country by 4,000. –

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