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IS leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi died in Syria: Trump

28 October, 2019

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WASHINGTON: President Donald Trump on Sunday said 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,” Trump said.

“He died after running into a dead end tunnel, whimpering and crying and screaming all the way,” Trump said, adding 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 nightime raid in northwestern Syria and accomplished their mission in grand style.”

At its height, Islamic State controlled swaths of Iraq and Syria in a self-declared state known as a caliphate, characterized by the brutal imposition of a puritanical version of Islam.

In addition to oppressing the people it governed, Islamic State planned or inspired terrorism 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!”

Turkey, which has been waging an offensive against the US-backed Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) in northeast Syria in recent weeks, had “advance knowledge” about the raid, a senior Turkish official said.

“To the best of my knowledge, Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi arrived at this location 48 hours prior to the raid,” the official told AFP.

The commander-in-chief of the SDF, who have been fighting IS in Syria, said the operation came after “joint intelligence work” with American forces. Trump also said that Iraq had been “very good” over the raid.

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.

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