Washington — Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, the ruthless leader of the Islamic State of Syria and Iraq (ISIS) who once controlled a vast swath of territory and tens of thousands of jihadist fighters, died in a raid by U.S. troops in northern Syria, bringing a dramatic end to a years-long U.S.-led hunt.
Addressing the nation on Sunday morning, President Trump said a team of U.S. special forces targeted al-Baghdadi in a “dangerous and daring” overnight raid. During the operation, the ISIS leader was “crying and screaming” and attempted to flee through a tunnel, the president said. As U.S. forces and dogs approached him, al-Baghdadi detonated a suicide vest, killing himself and a group of children who he brought with him, according to Mr. Trump.”He died like a dog. He died like a coward,” Mr. Trump said, adding that he watched much of the raid in real time from the White House Situation Room.
Mr. Trump said test results confirmed the identity of ISIS leader’s body, which he noted had been mutilated by the blast. During the operation, the president added, U.S. forces killed a “large number” of ISIS militants and collected intelligence from the terrorist group. No U.S. service members were killed.The Syrian Observatory of Human Rights (SOHR) said the raid took place at a compound at about 12:30 a.m. local time to the west of the town of Barisha, a mountainous area about 25 miles west of Aleppo overlooking the Turkish border. The area is a hotbed of activity by al Qaeda cells in Syria.SOHR said eight U.S. gunships and a fighter jet fired on targets in the area for about two hours, with messages blasted over loudspeakers in Arabic urging those in the compound to surrender. The group said nine people were killed, including two women and a child. Pressed by reporters, Mr. Trump said the operation to target al-Baghdadi was not linked to his controversial decision to withdraw all U.S. troops from northern Syria. The abrupt move earlier this month was seen by many Republican and Democratic lawmakers as an abandonment of the U.S. Kurdish allies there. Turkey and allied Arab groups invaded the territory the Kurds acquired in their U.S.-backed fight against ISIS soon after the American withdrawal.The Syrian Defense Forces (SDF), the main Kurdish group that has fought alongside U.S. forces against ISIS, hailed the overnight operation on Sunday. “Successful & historical operation due to a joint intelligence work with the United States of America,” said General Mazloum Abdi, the SDF commander.Al-Baghdadi’s death also comes just days after the U.S. announced it would be sending additional troops into Syria to protect oil fields from ISIS. Iraqi and Turkish officials said both countries had shared intelligence with the U.S. prior to the raid.