WASHINGTON: Fugitive Islamic State leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi died “whimpering and crying” in a raid by US special forces in northwest Syria, President Donald Trump announced on Sunday.
Baghdadi killed himself during the raid by detonating a suicide vest after fleeing into a dead-end tunnel, Trump said in a televised address from the White House.
He was positively identified by DNA tests 15 minutes after he died, the president said. “He was a sick and depraved man and now he’s gone.”
Trump said “many” of Baghdadi’s people were killed and added that in blowing himself up, Baghdadi also killed three of his children.
US forces suffered no personnel losses, he said. He also thanked Russia, Turkey, Syria and Iraq for their support.
Turkey said it was proud to have helped “bring a notorious terrorist to justice” and Israel’s Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu congratulated Trump on an “impressive achievement”.
But Russia’s response was muted, with the defense ministry in Moscow saying merely that it had no reliable information on the US raid.
Baghdadi had long been sought by the United States as head of a terror group that at one point controlled large areas of Syria and Iraq, where it declared a caliphate.
In recent years the group had lost most of its territory, bur most security experts believe Islamic State remains a threat through clandestine operations or attacks.
“The thug who tried so hard to intimidate others spent his last moments in utter fear, panic and dread, terrified of the American forces coming down on him,” Trump said.
“He reached the end of the tunnel as our dogs chased him down. He ignited his vest, killing himself and his three children. His body was mutilated by the blasts. The tunnel had caved on him,” Trump added.
“He died after running into a dead-end tunnel, whimpering and crying and screaming.”
Iraqi state television broadcast night-time footage of an explosion and daytime images of a crater in the ground and what it said was the aftermath of the raid, including torn and blood-stained clothes.
Iraq’s military said later in a statement that its intelligence services had located Baghdadi’s whereabouts and had passed the information to the United States.
Trump said eight helicopters carried the US special forces troops to the compound where Baghdadi was hiding, where they were met with gunfire before blasting their way in through the walls to avoid a booby-trapped main door.
The US forces spent around two hours in the compound, he said, adding that they had taken away “sensitive information” relating to Islamic State.
Russia “treated us great” by opening up its airspace for the raid and Kurdish allies gave some helpful information, according to Trump.
The president said he watched the operation unfold in the Situation Room of the White House, with Vice President Mike Pence, Defense Secretary Mark Esper and the joint military chiefs.
He added that Russia had not been aware of the nature of the US mission.
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