The Islamic State leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi has been killed in a raid by US special forces on his Syrian safehouse, Donald Trump announced on Sunday, ending a years-long manhunt for one of the world’s most wanted terrorists.
Trump said the “impeccable” two-hour operation was conducted on Saturday night in the province of Idlib, one of the last areas of the country still outside Syrian regime control, and that US officials had confirmed Baghdadi, 48, was among those killed.
“US special operations forces executed a dangerous and daring nighttime raid in north-west Syria and accomplished their mission in grand style,” Trump said.
The Isis leader died “running into a dead-end tunnel, whimpering and crying and screaming all the way,” he said.
ISIS leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi killed in US raid, says Donald Trump - latest updates
Baghdadi detonated a suicide vest and killed himself and three of his children, Trump said. “He died like a dog, he died like a coward. The world is now a much safer place.”
Trump said US forces were engaged with “massive firepower” as they arrived at the building where Baghdadi was sheltering with his family and associates.
“The compound had to be cleared at this time with people either surrendering or being shot and killed,” he said. “Eleven young children were moved out of the house and are uninjured.
“The only ones remaining were Baghdadi in the tunnel and he had dragged three of his young children with him. They were led to certain death. He reached the end of the tunnel as our dogs chased him down.
“[Baghdadi] ignited his vest, killing himself and the three children,” Trump said. “Test results gave certain immediate and totally positive identification it was him.”
The US president had presaged the news of Baghdadi’s death in characteristic style, inviting speculation by tweeting at 9.23 pm on Saturday evening in Washington: “Something very big has just happened!”
The first reports broke hours later that US special forces had been involved in an operation in Idlib targeting a senior terrorist leader who was soon reported to be the Isis chief.
Unnamed officials in Ankara, Tehran and Baghdad were quoted in various media outlets, including the Guardian, confirming that Baghdadi had been killed but Trump’s announcement on Sunday morning was the first official confirmation of the ISIS leader’s death.
“The thug who tried so hard to intimidate others spent his last moments in utter fear, total panic and fear, terrified of the American forces bearing down on him,” Trump said.
Among the first victims of the terrorist group and their relatives to issue reactions was Diane Foley, whose son James was among those whose deaths were filmed for gruesome murder videos that became a trademark of the group.
“I am grateful to our president and brave troops for finding Isis leader Al-Bagdadi,” Foley wrote. “I hope this will hinder the resurgence of terror groups and pray that captured Isis fighters will be brought to trial and held accountable.”
Trump mentioned Foley in the press conference as well as other American hostages killed in the group’s custody, Steven Sotloff, Peter Kassig and Kayla Mueller. He also referenced Muath al-Kasasbeh, the Jordanian pilot that the terrorist group burned to death.
The US national security adviser Robert O’Brien said the operation to kill the Isis head had been named after Mueller, a humanitarian worker who was imprisoned by ISIS, tortured and repeatedly sexually abused by Baghdadi himself. She died in the terrorist group’s confinement at the age of 26.
The US fighters collected “highly sensitive material and information” including on ISIS's future plans before they left the site, Trump said.
He thanked the governments of Russia, Iraq, Syria and Turkey as well as the Syrian Kurdish forces for their assistance. The US special forces reached the compound aboard eight helicopters that flew through Russian-controlled airspace with Moscow’s permission, he said, while the Kurds provided some intelligence.
Trump said Baghdadi was “the biggest there is”, larger even than Osama Bin Laden, the al-Qaeda chief killed in a raid in 2011. “Osama bin Laden was big, but Osama bin Laden became big with the World Trade Center,” he said. “This is a man who built a whole, as he would like to call it, a country.”
Baghdadi’s death is likely to be a significant fillip for Trump, who has faced withering criticism from Republicans and Democrats alike for withdrawing troops from north-eastern Syria, effectively allowing Turkey to move against the US’s Kurdish allies in the region.
Trump’s critics have charged that the Syrian pullout would allow ISIS to resurge in Syria and pose a renewed threat to American interests – arguments that could be blunted by Saturday’s operation, even if the risk from remnants of the militant group remains.
Baghdadi’s death is a devastating blow to a terror group that had run rampant across the region for five years from mid-2014, spawning gruesome terror attacks across the world, amplifying a mass refugee exodus and sparking a war to contain it that killed thousands of people and displaced millions more.
Throughout that time, Baghdadi remained the face of ISIS: a fearsome implacable ideologue who eluded the world’s intelligence agencies while continuing to incite a war of civilisations.
Over the past month, the manhunt for Baghdadi intensified after Iraqi officials identified a Syrian man who had moved his family members and wives from Iraq to Syria. An Iraqi intelligence official said the wives of Baghdadi’s two brothers, Jumah and Ahmad, along with other family members, were monitored as they moved to the region. The information was passed to the CIA earlier this month, the officials say.
Telegram accounts linked to ISIS were on Sunday offering prayers for Baghdadi, but not confirming his death. The terror group no longer controls territory in Syria or Iraq after a five-year war across much of both countries.
Several Syrian rebel groups active in Idlib province say they had been asked by US officials over the past fortnight to establish whether senior ISIS members were hiding in Idlib.
The region is mostly held by Hayat Tahrir al-Sham, an Islamist group that opposes Isis and routinely executes people thought to be affiliated with the group. Though long speculated to be a possible hideout, Idlib had been thought by many regional officials to be too risky a proposition for Baghdadi, who was more accustomed to the deserts of Iraq, where his organisation had risen.
For days, US officials had feared that IsSIS would seek to capitalise on the upheaval in Syria. But they also saw a potential opportunity in which ISIS leaders might break from more secretive routines to communicate with operatives, potentially creating a chance for the US and its allies to detect them.
Baghdadi, who had a $25m (£19m) bounty on his head, was long thought to be hiding somewhere along the Iraq-Syria border. He had led the group since 2010 when it was still an underground al-Qaida offshoot in Iraq.
Despite losing its last significant territory, Isis is believed to have sleeper cells around the world, and some fighters operate from the shadows in Syria’s desert and Iraq’s cities.
The group claimed responsibility for a series of suicide bombings in churches and hotels in Sri Lanka that killed more than 250 people in April, though police in the Indian Ocean island country say they are yet to establish a direct link to the terrorist group.
akalankadayananda Monday, 28 October 2019 07:37 AM
Your way of advertising is an hazzle to us
Wasp Monday, 28 October 2019 08:27 AM
Live by the bullet and die by the bullet!
Jude Monday, 28 October 2019 08:28 AM
Impeachment!!??? WHAT!!!??? Divert attention at it's BEST ! Huh!!!
Ajja Monday, 28 October 2019 08:41 AM
Baghdadi detonated a suicide vest and killed himself and three of his children, Trump said. “He died like a dog, he died like a coward.....
We too had similar cowards who perished during Easter Sunday attack.They are now in hell with evil virgins
ANTON Monday, 28 October 2019 09:48 AM
IF HE HAD BEEN IN SRILANKA, DEFINITELY HE WOULD HAVE BEEN OFFERED A MINISTER POST.
Rohan Monday, 28 October 2019 11:34 AM
Americans are calling it a brilliant operation but according to news coming out of Iraq that it was their own intelligence that uncovered the hiding place of the terrorist and passed on the exact location to the Americans, who simply flew into the location and attacked the house the terror master was hiding.