The US president says al-Baghdadi killed himself by exploding a suicide vest during the US raid in Syria’s Idlib.
US President Donald Trump has confirmed the death of ISIL leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi in a military operation in Syria’s northwest Idlib province, saying the US had “brought the world’s number one terrorist leader to justice”.
Trump said on Sunday the leader of the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL or ISIS) died after running into a dead-end tunnel in the village of Barisha and ignited an explosive vest during the raid, killing himself along with three of his children. A large number of his companions were also killed in the raid, Trump said during the address at the White House.
Al-Baghdadi’s 11 other children were “uninjured”, Trump said, and were left under the care of an unnamed third party.
Speaking from the White House’s Diplomatic Room, the president said that al-Baghdadi spent his last moments in utter fear and claims that he was “whimpering” and died as “a coward, running and crying”.
According to him, the US received immediate and positive identification on the body after an on site DNA test, and that the world is now a much safer place.
“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,” Trump told reporters.
“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,” Trump continued.
No US troops were injured in the operation, the US president said, adding that sensitive information was taken from the compound by US Special Forces.
Trump also warned that al-Baghdadi’s successors are now in US “sights”.
US withdrawal from Syria
Late on Saturday, Trump had teased a major announcement, posting on Twitter that “Something very big has just happened!” By the morning, he was thanking Russia, Turkey, Syria and Iraq, as well as Kurdish fighters in Syria for their support.
The death of al-Baghdadi marks a significant foreign policy success for Trump, coming at one of the lowest points in his presidency as he is mired in impeachment proceedings.
Commenting on Trump’s choice of words, Marwan Bishara, Al Jazeera’s senior political analyst, said it was important for the US president to “make clear” to those who follow or might support ISIL that al-Baghdadi is a coward.
“It’s a way not only to kill al-Baghdadi physically, but also in terms of whatever memory there is of him … to kill his character,” he said.
“Clearly he’s going to be selling this point, about how he assassinated and ended the Islamic State and revived the American economy,” Bishara noted, referring to the upcoming US elections.
ISIL, which at one point controlled swathes of Syria and Iraq, committed atrocities against religious minorities and were behind attacks in several countries.
Al-Baghdadi became arguably the world’s most wanted man, and had a $25m US bounty on his head.
He kept a low public profile in recent years, releasing only sporadic audio recordings. In a recording just last month, he called on members of the group to do all they could to free ISIL prisoners and women held in jails and camps.
That purported audio was his first public statement since last April, when he appeared in a video for the first time in five years. The video included images of the ISIL leader sitting in a white room with three others as he praised Easter Day bombings that killed more than 250 people in Sri Lanka.
Trump’s latest announcement comes as the US leader has been on the receiving end of bipartisan criticism in Washington following the recent pullback of US troops from northeastern Syria.
Critics fear that the decision will allow ISIL to regain strength after it had lost vast stretches of territory it had once controlled. But Trump reiterated his position and said his administration was not considering US withdrawal from Syria.
The Turkish Defence ministry said in a statement that Turkey and the US had exchanged information on a US-led raid in Syria’s Idlib.