According to a report published yesterday by FARS news agency, Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, the leader of ISIS, was recently poisoned along with three of his top aides:

Iraq’s Sumeriya News cited a local source in the Northwestern Nineveh Province as saying that “accurate information” showed Baghdadi’s food had been poisoned by unknown individuals and the food was given to him in the Be’aaj district, Northwest of the Iraqi province of Nineveh near the Syrian border.

So FARS is relying on a local news source in Nineveh. How reliable is this source? The story, which was covered yesterday by the Daily Mail among others also says there is an effort to arrest people and try to find out who is responsible for the poisoning. But this isn’t happening in a vacuum. As CNN points out, there is a looming siege on Mosul by the Iraq army:

Iraqi troops were last in this part of northern Iraq in the summer of 2014, when they were fleeing the rampant advance of ISIS fighters.

Now, as part of an agreement with the Kurdistan Regional Government and the United States, they are preparing to reverse that humiliating loss…

When asked when the attack will begin, Iraqi and Peshmerga officers have the same one-word answer: “Soon.” It’s widely thought that the multi-pronged offensive will begin in the second half of this month. In the meantime, there’s been an uptick in coalition airstrikes — mainly by US, French and British aircraft — in and around Mosul.

So ISIS is about to face a moment of truth as it tries to hold on to Mosul, a city it has held for two years. This is likely to be a deadly battle that could kill a lot of ISIS fighters. Already there are reports that resistance fighters are killing ISIS commanders in the city in anticipation of the siege. With that in mind, here’s the line in the FARS story that made me wonder if there might be more than one possible explanation for this poisoning story:

The report on poisoning al-Baghdadi surfaced after media revealed on Sunday that ISIL’s top commanders, including al-Baghdadi, have started fleeing Mosul for Syria.

“The ISIL commanders, including al-Baghdadi, are escaping Mosul to Syria,” Iraqi Kurdistan Democrat Party’s media director Saeed Mamouziti said.

So ISIS is under pressure and some of its commanders are now strategically retreating to Syria. What is a the leader of a PR savvy terror group to do? Well, if what you really want to do is get out of town before you get killed by a U.S. airstrike it would help to have a good excuse.

This is purely speculation on my part, but telling your soldiers to stay behind and fight to the death as you head for the hills doesn’t look very good. But if you’ve been poisoned, no one can question your decision to disappear before the big battle or your commitment to die for the cause.

On the other hand, it’s possible Baghdadi really was poisoned. He certainly has made enough enemies. Either way, whether this is an accurate report or disinformation to explain Baghdadi’s retreat, it seems like bad news for ISIS.