Islamic State (IS) leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi has fled his base in Mosul and left behind lower-level operatives to fight the battle for control of the city, U.S. and Iraqi officials said on March 8.
They said Baghdadi, who declared himself leader of a "caliphate" after taking control of Mosul in 2014, is now hiding out in the desert, focused mainly on his own survival.
The claim could not be independently confirmed. Officials said a recent absence of internal IS communications and a tapering off of postings on Telegram, Twitter, and other social media suggests Baghdadi has left what was by far the largest population center his group ever held.
IS never commented, for example, on the capture of the eastern half of Mosul by Iraq's 100,000-strong forces in January. And Baghdadi himself has not released a recorded speech since early November, two weeks after the start of the Mosul battle.
But he has proved to be an elusive target in the past, rarely using communication that can be monitored, and moving constantly.