Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, the leader of the militant group Isis, was killed on Saturday in a US special forces raid in north-western Syria, President Donald Trump has confirmed.
“Last night the United States brought the world’s number one terrorist leader to justice,” President Trump said at a televised press conference on Sunday morning.
“Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi is dead.”
Baghdadi was the target of a commando operation in Idlib province, which borders Turkey in north-west Syria. Mr Trump said he was killed while trying to hide in a tunnel “whimpering and crying and screaming all the way”.
Accompanied by three children, Baghdadi detonated a suicide vest when US special forces entered his compound in Barisha village in Idlib, Mr Trump said.
The killing of the militant leader comes at an opportune moment for the US president, who has faced bipartisan criticism over his decision earlier this month to withdraw US forces from Syria. Opponents of the pullout say it betrayed the Syrian Kurds who had been US allies in the fight against Isis and that it could allow the jihadi group to surge back after its defeat and expulsion from most of the territory it held in Syria and Iraq.
On Sunday morning, the commander of the Kurdish-led Syrian Democratic Forces posted a tweet about a “successful and historical operation due to a joint intelligence work with the United States of America”. Turkey’s defence minister said in a tweet that “information exchange and co-ordination between the military authorities of both countries took place” before to the US operation in Idlib.
“The Turkish military did have advance knowledge of last night’s raid. We will continue to co-ordinate our actions on the ground,” said a senior Turkish official, without elaborating on the nature of the co-ordination, citing rules on commenting on intelligence-sharing.
Mr Trump on Saturday posted a tweet saying that “something very big has just happened”, without elaborating.
Idlib is dominated by Hayat Tahrir al-Sham, an al-Qaeda linked group that has previously clashed with Isis. It was assumed the region would be too hostile for Mr Baghdadi to hide there.
Baghdadi has topped the list of most-wanted terrorists for years and has been the subject of manhunts by US intelligence and other international security agencies. His group, which captured a third of Iraq and a huge swath of Syria in a lightning sweep in 2014, set up what it called an Islamic state in an attempt to revive the Caliphate of the early days of Islam.
Isis imposed its harsh and often murderous rule on local populations and attracted thousands of foreign fighters from numerous countries in the Arab region, Europe and America, lured by the appeal of resurgent Islam conquering the world and going back to its purist roots.
Over the years Isis has been accused of a long list of atrocities including suicide bombings, beheadings, rapes and enslavement of women.
Additional reporting by Ayla Jean Yackley
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