The leader of the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIS) won the allegiance of Egypt’s deadliest militant group Monday as Iraqi authorities investigated reports he had been killed or wounded in a US air strike.
Ansar Beit al-Maqdis, which has carried out a string of attacks from its stronghold in Egypt’s Sinai Peninsula, said it was pledging its loyalty to the self-declared IS “caliph”, Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi.
Speculation has swirled that Baghdadi, whose group has seized large parts of Iraq and Syria, was killed or wounded in a US strike on jihadist leaders in northern Iraq on Friday, but officials said there was no confirmation.
“There is no accurate information and we are investigating,” a senior intelligence official told AFP on Monday when asked about Baghdadi’s fate.
In a recording posted on its Twitter account, Ansar Beit al-Maqdis promised its loyalty to ISIS and urged other Muslims to do the same.
“We announce our pledge of allegiance to the caliph Ibrahim Ibn Awad... to listen and obey,” the audio recording said, using another name for Baghdadi.
It was the most significant vow of support for ISIS in the region outside Iraq and Syria, suggesting its influence over militant groups is overshadowing its once dominant al Qaeda rivals.
There were some reports that said that a close aide to elusive Baghdadi was killed near the Iraqi city of Falluja. State television identified the man as Abu Huthaifa al-Yamani.
It did not say when the strike took place or give further details. It was not immediately possible to confirm the death or whether Yamani was an aide to Baghdadi.