Trump confirms ISIS leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi killed in US operation

Leader of the militant Islamic State Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi in a public appearance at a mosque in the centre of Iraq's second city, Mosul, according to a video recording posted on the Internet on July 5, 2014. PHOTO: REUTERS
US President Donald Trump confirmed the death of Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, leader of the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria, on Oct 27, 2019. PHOTO: SCREENGRAB FROM THE WHITE HOUSE/YOUTUBE

WASHINGTON (BLOOMBERG) - President Donald Trump said on Sunday (Oct 27) Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi is dead after a US military raid in northern Syria that left the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS) leader "in utter fear, in total panic and dread" in his final moments.

"Last night the United States brought the world's number one terrorist to justice," Mr Trump said in an announcement in the Diplomatic Reception Room at the White House.

No US personnel were lost in the operation, while a large number of Baghdadi's fighters or companions were killed with him, the President said.

Baghdadi's body was mutilated after he detonated a suicide vest while fleeing into a tunnel, but DNA test results provided a positive identification, Mr Trump said.

The President watched the operation on Saturday in the White House Situation Room with Cabinet members and top military and intelligence officials.

Baghdadi was the highest-ranking terrorist leader killed or captured since Osama bin Laden was killed in 2011 during the Obama administration.

The operations by 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."

Remote video URL

The operation was built on CIA planning, a person familiar with the matter said, denying a report from Iraq that intelligence from that country's government played a role. Mr Trump didn't hesitate to give the order to proceed, the person said.

Mr Trump said his tweet on late Saturday night that "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 didn't name.

Mr Trump at the White House thanked Russia, Syria, Iraq and the Syrian Kurds for their help in the operation.

A man inspects the debris of a house following an alleged US-led raid at the northwestern Syrian village of Barisha near the border with Turkey, on Oct 27, 2019. PHOTO: DPA

Previous reports that Baghdadi had been killed proved to be premature. In April, ISIS released a video of a man the militant group identified as Baghdadi, in what would have been his first appearance in five years. The video was released a month after the militants were driven out of their last stronghold in Syria.

The US operation in Syria appeared to involve cooperation from various forces in the region. Iraq provided "precise information" to coalition forces that "contributed to reaching the terrorist al-Baghdadi and killing him", the state-run Iraqi News Agency reported, citing an intelligence official it didn't identify.

The US also informed Turkey before the raid, with a senior Turkish official saying that Baghdadi had arrived at the Idlib location 48 hours before the strike. The official wouldn't confirm whether Turkey had shared intelligence with the US to facilitate the operation, but pledged continue cooperation with allies in the fight against ISIS.

The death of Baghdadi would be a boost to Mr Trump, who's faced 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's "caliphate".

Remote video URL

The Kurdish-led Syrian Defence Forces (SDF), who led the fight against ISIS on the ground in Syria, said they were involved in the "successful and effective operation", and will keep working with global partners in the fight against the terror organisation, according to a tweet by SDF spokesman Mustafa Bali.

Idlib province, where the raid was conducted, isn't in the region where US forces were based or withdrew from following Mr Trump's decision. Instead, it has been a refuge for hardline forces, many with links to Al-Qaeda, that had held off efforts by Syrian President Bashar al-Assad's military to retake the region. It has increasingly become the focus of Syria's efforts, backed by Russia, to secure control over the country after more than eight years of civil war.

Join ST's Telegram channel and get the latest breaking news delivered to you.