The Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights says it has “confirmed information” that ISIS leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi has been killed – quoting ISIS commanders on the inside. Russia’s defence ministry said last month that Baghdadi may have been killed in a Russian airstrike on an ISIS meeting on the outskirts of Raqqa in Syria in May; Another claim that went unverified. These two are only the latest ones; al-Baghdadi has been “killed”, “confirmed dead” many times, only for those reports to be proven false. As it stands al-Baghdadi is more a myth than a man – an elusive leader about whom very little is known and who has kept public appearances to a minimum, subsisting on mystique alone. Perhaps it is not possible to kill such a figure in the traditional sense, but it is certainly useful.

The announcement of al-Baghdadi’s death coming so soon after the fall of Mosul and the conquest of the al-Nuri mosque – where he proclaimed his caliphate in 2014 – would be a massive blow to morale of the remaining ISIS fighters. In a sprawling conflict with ill-defined lines and shifting allegiances these few facts may be the only two solid indications that the war against ISIS is being won. It matters little – to the Iraqi government at least – if al-Baghdadi is really dead or not; the declaration of victory and bolstered morale is much more important. This report is more substantive than the previous ones and the Syrian Observatory is generally reliable, but unless it is officially confirmed by ISIS itself, it must be treated as rumours.

Regardless of his death the battle continues – large sections of the Middle East are still under ISIS control and their capital Raqqa still stands. Capturing the al-Nuri mosque may be a symbolic victory, but the real one can only be claimed when ISIS is driven out of its strongholds.

Even then the battle is not over; we have seen leaderless and fractured groups like Al-Qaeda and Taliban survive long after being displaced from their bases. In fact, these groups have become more dangerous after being driven underground, when the their objective changes from state-building, governing and protecting territory to carrying out terrorist attacks in the truest sense against targets far and wide. We have seen power vacuums among these group create more ruthless iterations and more fundamental splinters, and for a group as large and diverse as ISIS, these groups will be very dangerous.

We may be winning the war against ISIS, but their complete eradication lies far ahead in the future.