By Associated Press
Russia has fired cruise missiles from the Mediterranean Sea on positions of the Islamic State group in Syria, the Defense Ministry said on Friday, Moscow’s latest show of strength in the conflict wracking the Mideast country.
The ministry said in a statement that two frigates and a submarine launched six cruise missiles on IS installations in Syria’s Hama province, destroying command centers and ammunition depots. It did not say when the missiles were launched.
Moscow has fired missiles from the Mediterranean at militants’ positions in Syria before, including launches from a submarine and a frigate in May at the targets in the area of the ancient city of Palmyra.
Russia is one of the strongest backers of Syrian President Bashar Assad’s government and has been carrying airstrikes in the country since September 2015.
Separately on Friday, a senior Russian lawmaker said Moscow is “nearly 100 percent” sure that the IS top leader was killed in a Russian airstrike last month.
The Defense Ministry first made the claim last week, saying that Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi’s death in the May 28 strike on the outskirts of the Syrian city of Raqqa was still “being verified through various channels.”
Viktor Ozerov, head of the defense and security committee at the upper chamber of the Russian parliament, told the Interfax news agency on Friday that Russia’s intelligence about al-Baghdadi’s death is “nearly 100 percent” certain.
“Russia would not want to be on the list of the countries that have said before that he was killed and then al-Baghdadi would resurrect,” Ozerov added.
The whereabouts of the shadowy al-Baghdadi, with a $25 million U.S. bounty on his head, have not been known. His last public appearance was almost three years ago in the Iraqi city of Mosul, at the 12th century al-Nuri Mosque from where he declared a “caliphate” in the territory that IS had seized in Iraq and Syria in July 2014.
That mosque, along with its famous leaning minaret, was destroyed on Wednesday night, blown up by IS militants as their control of Mosul increasingly is slipping away. The mosque would have been a symbolic prize for Iraqi forces and the U.S.-led coalition in the fight for Iraq’s second-largest city.