BAGHDAD (Reuters) - A coalition air strike in western Iraq killed at least 17 Islamic State militants overnight, a hospital source said on Thursday, and an Arabic TV channel said the group’s leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi had been in the area several hours before.
The channel, al-Arabiya al-Hadath, based its report on anonymous sources and gave no further information on Baghdadi. The report on his whereabouts could not be confirmed.
The hospital source in al-Qaim, a town on the Euphrates River, hospital said nine civilians were killed and 29 militants were wounded in the strike by the U.S.-led coalition which is bombing Islamic State targets in Iraq and Syria. Some of the wounded were taken across the border to Syria for treatment.
The militants were on their way to reinforce IS fighters on the frontlines in Iraq and were resting at a guesthouse after crossing over from Syria when they were hit, said the hospital source, who overheard conversations between the wounded.
The militants’ host, Thamir Mohammed al-Askari, who was also in charge of logistics for fighters in the area, was amongst those killed, according to the source.
The U.S.-led coalition has carried out hundreds of airstrikes in both Iraq and Syria since launching a campaign to “degrade and destroy” Islamic State last year.
U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry last month said as much as half of the IS leadership had been taken out by airstrikes, which have helped Iraqi forces including the Kurdish peshmerga regain some ground against the Sunni Islamist group.
But the militants have not been dislodged from core Sunni Arab territories they overran last June, including the city of Mosul. Iraqi forces are currently preparing for an assault on Tikrit, the hometown of Iraq’s late dictator Saddam Hussein.
Islamic State daily radio broadcast al-Bayan said “Crusader Safavid” air strikes near al-Qaim had killed three people and wounded others including women and children, using the derogatory term it employs for the anti-Islamic State coalition.
Al-Qaim is about 330 km (200 miles) northwest of Baghdad.
Separately, coalition planes bombed al-Rutba district, 385 km west of Baghdad, killing six Islamic State militants and 11 civilians, according to a source in the local hospital.
Reporting by Saif Hameed; Writing by Isabel Coles; Editing by Mark Trevelyan