WASHINGTON • Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS) leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi detonated a suicide vest, killing himself and three of his children, after United States special forces operators trapped him in a dead-end tunnel in Syria, US President Donald Trump announced yesterday.
"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," Mr Trump said at the White House.
"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," he added.
No US personnel were lost in the operation, while "many" of Baghdadi's fighters or companions were killed with him, the President said.
One US military dog was injured in the tunnel.
"Last night, the United States brought the world's No. 1 terrorist to justice," Mr Trump said in an announcement.
DNA test results provided a positive identification, he added.
He watched the operation on Saturday at the White House with Cabinet members and top military and intelligence officials.
Baghdadi, 48, was the highest-ranking terrorist leader killed or captured since Osama bin Laden was killed in 2011 during the Obama administration.
The operations by the US special forces focused on the north-western province of Idlib, according to one of the people, who asked not to be identified discussing the matter.
"Our reach is very long," Mr Trump said. "Baghdadi has been on the run for many years, long before I took office. But at my direction, as commander-in-chief of the United States, we obliterated his caliphate 100 per cent in March of this year.
"Today's events are another reminder that we will continue to pursue the remaining ISIS terrorists to their brutal end."
Mr Trump said his tweet late on Saturday night, saying "Something very big has just happened!", was sent shortly after the operation was completed and US military helicopters had returned safely to a "friendly country" he did not name.
At the White House, Mr Trump thanked Russia, Turkey, Syria, Iraq and the Syrian Kurds for their help in the operation.
Baghdadi had long been sought by the US as head of a terror group that at one point controlled large areas of Syria and Iraq, where it declared a caliphate.
ISIS has carried out atrocities against religious minorities and attacks on five continents in the name of a version of an ultra-fanatic Islam that horrified mainstream Muslims.
In recent years, the group had lost most of its territory. But while the destruction of the quasi-state that Baghdadi built has denied the group its recruiting tool and logistical base from which it could train fighters and plan coordinated attacks overseas, most security experts believe ISIS remains a threat through clandestine operations or attacks.
The death of Baghdadi would be a boost to Mr Trump, who faces bipartisan criticism after his Oct 6 announcement that he would pull US forces back in the face of a Turkish military offensive in northern Syria.
The move prompted even Republican supporters of Mr Trump to say he was abandoning Kurdish allies of the US who had helped defeat ISIS' "caliphate".
Idlib province, where the raid was conducted, is not in the region where US forces were based or withdrew from following Mr Trump's decision. Instead, it has been a refuge for militant forces, many with links to Al-Qaeda, which had held off efforts by Syrian President Bashar al-Assad's military to retake the region.