Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, the notorious leader of Islamic State terrorist group, was severely wounded in an airstrike and is no longer able to serve as commander of the jihadist group, sources told the Guardian.
On Tuesday, Iraqi-based source with connections to the terror group revealed that Baghdadi suffered serious injuries during an attack by the US-led coalition in March.
"Yes, he was wounded in al-Baaj near the village of Umm al-Rous on 18 March with a group that was with him," Hisham al-Hashimi, an advisor to the Iraqi government, confirmed.
While Baghdadi has since made a slow recovery, he remains unable to serve as the Islamic State's commander due to the severity of his injuries. According to the AFP, his wounding led to urgent meetings of ISIS leaders, who initially believed he would die and made plans to name a new leader.
Al-Baaj, a district of Nineveh, is situated 200 miles west of Mosul, Iraq's second largest city which was overtaken by the Islamic State back in August. Baghdadi is believed to have used this key area as his base for its remote location, some distance from US activity.
"He chose this area because he knew from the war that the Americans did not have much cover there," said a source privy to some of Baghdadi's movements. "From 2003 (the US military) barely had a presence there. It was the one part of Iraq that they hadn't mapped out."
Baghdadi, who is in his early 40's, is believed to have been an Islamic preacher at the time of the 2003 U.S. invasion of Iraq. He later became an al-Qaeda militant and was briefly detained by American forces at Camp Bucca, according to Defense Department officials.
In 2010, U.S. and Iraqi forces killed two top al-Qaeda in Iraq leaders, allowing al-Baghdadi to become the leader of an offshoot group, now known as ISIS. Today, the violent jihadist group controls large parts of territories in Iraq and Syria, and seeks to form an Islamic emirate in the Levant region through "jihad."
Little is known about Baghdadi's personal life; however, the BBC notes that the ISIS chief often wears a mask to address his commanders, earning the nickname "the invisible sheikh".
"He is frightened by what we did in the last three days," Maj. Gen. Mansour al-Jabour told NBC News at the time. "We will not hesitate" to kill al-Baghdadi...He is going to be on top of our list."
He added, "[ISIS leadership] always hide and they are always on the move but we have assets always in the air for an opportunity to target al-Baghdadi and his gang. If [al-Baghdadi] is not frightened let him show himself to us and he'll see what we can do against him."
Two other Islamic State's key leaders were killed by air strikes in December. The BBC notes, however, that the Pentagon has no confirmed information on Baghdadi's fate, and last year's reports of him being injured were inaccurate.