President Trump: ISIS leader died like a coward
US President Donald Trump on Sunday announced that elusive Islamic State leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi was killed, dying “like a dog,” in a daring, nighttime raid by US special forces deep in northwest Syria.
Trump told the nation in a televised address from the White House that US forces killed a “large number” of Islamic State militants during the raid which culminated in cornering Baghdadi in a tunnel, where he set off a suicide vest.
“He ignited his vest, killing himself,” he said. “He died after running into a dead-end tunnel, whimpering and crying and screaming all the way.”
The US State Department had posted a $25 million (Sh2.5 billion)reward for information on his whereabouts.
The US president added that three of Baghdadi’s children also died in the blast.
Trump said that the raid—which required flying more than an hour by helicopter in both directions from an undisclosed base— had been accomplished by help from Russia, Syria, Turkey and Iraq.
Special forces “executed a dangerous and daring nighttime raid in northwestern Syria and accomplished their mission in grand style.”
“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,” Trump said. “He was a sick and depraved man, and now he’s gone. He died like a dog, he died like a coward.”
At its height, Islamic State-controlled swaths of Iraq and Syria in a self-declared state known as a caliphate, characterised by the brutal imposition of a puritanical version of Islam.
In addition to oppressing the people it governed, Islamic State planned or inspired terrorist attacks across Europe, while using expertise in social media to lure large numbers of foreign volunteers.
It took years of war, in which Islamic State became notorious for mass executions and sickening hostage murders before the caliphate’s final slice of territory in Syria was seized this March.
The death of Baghdadi comes as a big boost for Trump, whose abrupt decision to withdraw a small but effective deployment of US forces from Syria caused fears that it would give Islamic State remnants and sleeper cells a chance to regroup. Trump took a storm of criticism, including from his own usually loyal Republican Party.
In keeping with his liking for showmanship, Trump had teased the news late Saturday with an enigmatic tweet saying merely that “Something very big has just happened!”
A war monitor said US helicopters dropped forces in an area of Syria’s Idlib province where “groups linked to the Islamic State group” were present.
The helicopters targeted a home and a car outside the village of Barisha in Idlib province said the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, which is based in Britain but relies on a network of sources inside Syria for its information.
The operation killed nine people, including an IS senior leader called Abu Yamaan as well as a child and two women, it said.
Journalists outside Barisha saw a minibus scorched to cinders by the side of the road, and windows shattered in a neighbour’s house surrounded by red agricultural land dotted with olive trees.
A resident in the area who gave his name as Abdel Hameed said he rushed to the place of the attack after he heard helicopters, gunfire and strikes in the night.
“The home had collapsed and next to it there was a destroyed tent and vehicle. There were two people killed inside” the car, he said.
The only US casualty was a military dog in the tunnel with the trapped Islamic State leader. Long pursued by the US-led coalition against IS, Baghdadi has been erroneously reported dead several times in recent years.
Baghdadi, an Iraqi native believed to be around 48 years old, was rarely seen. After 2014, he disappeared from sight, only surfacing in a video in April with a wiry grey and red beard and an assault rifle at his side, as he encouraged followers to “take revenge” after the group’s territorial defeat.
His reappearance was seen as a reassertion of his leadership of a group that—despite its March defeat—has spread from the Middle East to Asia and Africa and claimed several deadly attacks in Europe. -AFP