ISIS leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi is hiding in Mosul: Kurdish official

Smoke rise from burning oil fields which were damaged during the fighting between Iraqi forces and ISIS fighters in Qayara town, some 50km south of Mosul.
Smoke rise from burning oil fields which were damaged during the fighting between Iraqi forces and ISIS fighters in Qayara town, some 50km south of Mosul.PHOTO: EPA

BAGHDAD - The self-declared caliph of the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS) terror group, Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, is believed to be hiding in Mosul, where an Iraqi offensive to recapture the city is under way, according to a senior Kurdish official.

"Baghdadi is there (Mosul) and, if he is killed, it will mean the collapse of the whole (ISIS) system," Mr Fuad Hussein, the chief of staff to Kurdish President Massoud Barzani, told the Independent.

Baghdadi has concealed his whereabouts for the last eight or nine months, according to Mr Hussein. If he is killed, ISIS would have to choose a new leader in the middle of a battle and it is likely that his successor would not have the authority or prestige of Baghdadi, who surprised the world by declaring the terror caliphate after capturing Mosul in June 2014.

With Baghdadi keeping a low profile, ISIS has become dependent on commanders from Mosul and Tal Afar - a city to the west of Mosul - according to Mr Hussein. It has also suffered setbacks when other senior and better known figures were killed after initial triumphs in northern Iraq and eastern Syria in 2014.

Baghdadi's presence in Mosul may complicate and prolong the battle for Mosul, as his followers are likely to fight to the death to defend him, reported The Independent.

"It is obvious that they will lose, but not how long this will take to happen," said Mr Hussein.