US President Donald Trump confirmed on Sunday in a White House statement that Islamic State (ISIS) leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi has been killed in a US special operations mission in northwest Syria.
US special forces brought the “world’s number one terrorist to justice”, Trump said, claiming Baghdadi detonated a suicide vest after being cornered “whimpering” in a tunnel with three of his children.
“Baghdadi did not die like a hero but a dog whimpering and screaming… he died like a coward,” Trump said.
“Our dogs chased him down a dead end tunnel, he took three of his young children with him and he ignited his waist bomb.”
“His body was mutilated by the blast. The tunnel had caved in on it in addition. But test results gave certain immediate and totally positive identification. It was him.”
“The thug who tried so hard to intimidate others spent his last moments in utter fear, in total panic and dread, terrified of the American forces bearing down on him.”
Several of Baghdadi’s followers were also killed in the “dangerous and daring nighttime raid”, the US president said.
“There were two women, both wives, both wearing vests … they were dead but did not detonated their vests,” he said.
No US personnel were lost in the operation and 11 children were removed from the scene without harm, Trump said.
Asked where the operation was deployed from, Trump said: “I’d rather not say, we landed in a friendly port, in a friendly country.” Russia was pre-warned about the operation, but the US did not disclose the target, he added.
“The Kurds gave us some information that turned out to be helpful,” he added.
US President Trump in White House situation room, October 27, 2019. Photo: White House Twitter
Confirming the news on Sunday afternoon, Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) commander Mazloum Kobani Abdi tweeted: “We have been implementing accurate pursuit and intelligence work on the ground for five months until we got the terrorist Abu Bakir al-Baghdadi in a joint operation. We thank everyone who contributed in this great duty.”
According to the Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights (SOHR), the operation took place in a northwestern village named Barisha in Syria’s Idlib close to the border with Turkey.
“US helicopters dropped fighters on the ground before clashes broke out with jihadists,” the war monitor said.
In an earlier tweet on Sunday morning, SDF commander Abdi said a “successful” and “historic” operation had taken place as a result of “joint intelligence work” between the SDF and the US.
SDF press spokesman Mustafa Bali tweeted: “Successful and effective operation by our forces is yet another proof of SDF’s anti-terror capability. We continue to work with our partners in the global @coalition in the fight against ISIS terrorism. #DefeatDaesh.”
According to the unnamed US official who spoke to Newsweek, Turkey was not notified about the operation in advance.
Turkey’s defense ministry contradicted this claim, however, saying there had in fact been “information exchange and coordination” between the US and Turkey.
“Prior to the US Operation in Idlib Province of Syria last night, information exchange and coordination between the military authorities of both countries took place,” the ministry said in a tweet.