President Donald Trump declared Sunday morning that ISIS leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi was dead after a US military raid in northwest Syria over the weekend.
“Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi is dead,” Trump said at the White House, calling the ISIS leader’s removal “the top national security priority of my administration.”
The President said a US special operations forces mission went after the ISIS leader and there were no US deaths during the mission. Several ISIS fighters and companions with al-Baghdadi during the mission were killed. Eleven children were moved out of the house and are uninjured, the President said.
The death of al-Baghdadi marks the culmination of a years-long hunt to find one of the most wanted terrorists in the world and the man who declared a so-called Islamic caliphate in Iraq and Syria in 2014. But it also comes as the US military is pulling back in Syria, a move analysts warn could allow for an ISIS resurgence.
Trump said al-Baghdadi was chased to the end of a dead end tunnel by dogs,
“dragging” three children with him. At the end of the tunnel, he detonated a suicide vest, killing himself and the children with him.
The President said “immediate” and “totally positive” test results proved it was al-Baghdadi.
“He died like a dog. He died like a coward. The world is now a much safer place,” Trump said.
Trump described the situation, saying the ISIS leader “spent his last moments in utter fear, in total panic and dread, terrified of the American forces bearing down on him.”
The President said US forces obtained “highly sensitive material and information from the raid, much having to do with ISIS — origins, future plans, things that we very much want.”
Trump told reporters al-Baghdadi was under surveillance for a couple of weeks and that two to three planned missions were scrapped before the successful one was launched.
The US flew over certain Russian airspace during the mission, he said.
The President said he watched the operation from the White House Situation Room but would not give more details of what type of feed it was.
“Last night was a great night for United States and for the world,” the President said. He described in sometimes brutal terms how Baghdadi died.
He said the leader, “spent his last moments in utter fear… terrified of the American forces bering down on him.” He described Baghdadi as, “crying, whimpering, screaming, and bringing three kids with him. To die. Certain death.”
Trump said it was a “very dangerous mission,” regarding flying in and flying out. He thanked Russia, Turkey, Syria, Iraq and Syrian Kurds for helping in the mission.
During the mission, he said, US service members were met with local gunfire, which was eliminated.
CNN reported early Sunday morning that al-Baghdadi was believed to have been killed in the raid, according to a senior US defense official and a source with knowledge. The final confirmation was pending while DNA and biometric testing is conducted, both sources told CNN. The CIA assisted in locating the ISIS leader, the defense official said.
Al-Baghdadi became the leader of Islamic State of Iraq (ISI) in 2010. In 2013, ISI declared its absorption of an al Qaeda-backed militant group in Syria and al-Baghdadi said that his group would now be known as Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant (ISIL or ISIS).
Al-Baghdadi has been in hiding for the last five years. In April, a video published by the ISIS media wing al-Furqan showed a man purporting to be al-Baghdadi. It was the first time he had been seen since July 2014, when he spoke at the Great Mosque in Mosul.