Washington, Oct 27 (IANS) Fugitive Islamic State (IS) leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi was killed in a US military operation in Syria’s northwest Idlib district, US President Donald Trump announced on Sunday.
In a special media address at the White House, Trump said: “Last night was a great night for the US and the world. A brutal killer, one who has caused so much hardship and death, has violently been eliminated. He will never again harm an innocent man, woman or child.
“Last night, the United States brought the world’s number one terrorist leader, to justice: Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi is dead.”
The US President, who raised speculation about Al-Baghdadi’s killing with his Saturday night tweet, reading: “Something very big has just happened!”, revealed that US special forces executed a “daring night-time raid” on Saturday to accomplish their mission “in grand style”.
The Al-Baghdadi, whose IS created havoc across the Middle East since its emergence in 2014 when it overran great stretches of Iraq and Syria and implemented a harsh rule on the inhabitants, detonated his suicide vest during the raid, Trump said.
“He died after running into a dead-end tunnel, whimpering, crying and screaming all the way. 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,” he said.
“He was a sick and depraved man. And now he’s gone.”
Trump said that he got to watch “much” of the “dangerous and daring nighttime raid” with Vice President Mike Pence, Joint Chiefs of Staff Chairman, Gen Mark Milley and others in the Situation Room. “We had absolutely perfect — as though you were watching a movie.”
He also said that no US personnel were lost in the operation, “while a large number of Baghdadi fighters and companions were killed with him”.
Al-Baghdadi’s death “demonstrates America’s relentless pursuit of terrorist leaders and our commitment to the enduring and total defeat of ISIS and other terrorist organisations. Our reach is very long”, he said.
Baghdadi had been under surveillance for “a couple of weeks” and several other raids had been cancelled because of his movements, he said, describing the location as a “compound”.
He thanked the “great intel professionals who helped make this very successful journey possible. I want to thank the soldiers and sailors, airmen and Marines involved in last night’s operation — you are the very best there is.”
The US President also thanked Russia, Turkey, Syria and Iraq, as well as the Syrian Kurds “for certain support they were able to give us”.
Trump also said that the US has killed terrorist leaders during his administration “but not the big names.”
“I kept saying, ‘Where’s al-Baghdadi? I want al-Baghdadi.’ … I’ve been looking for him for three years.”
A resident in Idlib’s Barisha, where the raid reportedly took place, told the BBC that helicopters shot at two houses for 30 minutes late on Saturday and destroyed one, before troops became active on the ground.