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'US cannot prove Islamic State chief is dead'

Earlier this week, the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said it had 'confirmed information' that Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi had been killed.

FILE: This file image grab taken from a propaganda video released on 5 July 2014 by al-Furqan Media allegedly shows the leader of the Islamic State (IS) jihadist group Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, aka Caliph Ibrahim, adressing Muslim worshippers at a mosque in the militant-held northern Iraqi city of Mosul. Picture: AFP.

WASHINGTON - US Defense Secretary Jim Mattis said on Friday the United States could not prove that Islamic State leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi was dead.

Earlier this week, the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said it had "confirmed information" that Baghdadi had been killed, but Western and Iraqi officials have been sceptical.

"If we knew, we would tell you. Right now, I can't confirm or deny it," Mattis said. "Our approach is we assume that he's alive until it is proven otherwise, and right now, I can't prove it otherwise."

Mattis added that a ceasefire in southwestern Syria was holding so far.

The United States, Russia and Jordan announced the ceasefire and a "de-escalation agreement" for the south-west after a meeting between US President Donald Trump and Russian President Vladimir Putin at the G20 summit in Hamburg, Germany.

"What is happening further down in south-west is something that we will support obviously, but right now, we don't have any equity in it, that is a State Department, diplomatic lead, President to President effort," Mattis said.