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It was from this medieval mosque that the militants' leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi declared a self-styled "caliphate" spanning parts of Syria and Iraq three years ago. Al-Baghdadi proclaimed himself "caliph," or ruler of all Muslims, from the pulpit of the mosque on July 4, 2014, after the insurgents overran parts of Iraq and Syria. REUTERS/Social Media Website via Reuters TV

(reuters_tickers)

By Christian Lowe

MOSCOW (Reuters) - The likelihood that Islamic State leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi has been killed is close to 100 percent, Interfax news agency quoted the head of the defence committee in Russia's upper parliamentary house as saying on Friday.

Russia's defence ministry said a week ago it believed it may have killed Baghdadi when one of its air strikes hit a gathering of senior Islamic State commanders on the outskirts of the Syrian city of Raqqa.

But armed groups fighting in the region and U.S. officials say they have no evidence that Baghdadi was killed, and many regional officials have said they are sceptical about the information from Moscow.

Committee head Viktor Ozerov was quoted as saying the defence ministry would not have released information about Baghdadi's death if it believed it could be later proved incorrect.

"I think this information is close to 100 percent," Interfax quoted Ozerov as saying. "The fact that Islamic State has still not shown him anywhere also adds to our confidence that al-Baghdadi has been killed."

Baghdadi has frequently been reported killed or wounded since he declared a caliphate from a mosque in Mosul in 2014, after leading his fighters on a sweep through northern Iraq.

His death would be one of the biggest blows yet to the jihadist group, which is trying to defend its shrinking territory in Syria and Iraq against forces backed by regional and global powers.

(Editing by Alexander Winning and John Stonestreet)

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