ISIS leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi has been confirmed dead by Donald Trump, following a secretive military operation in Syria.
“Last night the United States brought the world’s number one terrorist leader to justice. Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi is dead,” Trump told reporters on Sunday.
The US president went onto describe al-Baghdadi’s death in graphic detail, explaining the how the leader – who was the US administration’s top national security target – had been chased down a tunnel by troops before detonating an explosive vest.
“The thug who tried so hard to intimidate others spent his last moments in utter fear, panic and dread, terrified of the American forces coming down on him,” Trump said.
“He reached the end of the tunnel as our dogs chased him down. He ignited his vest, killing himself and his three children. His body was mutilated by the blasts. The tunnel had caved on him.”
The secret operation targeting Baghdadi was reportedly approved by Trump earlier this month. There were reports Saturday of US military helicopters over Syria’s northwestern Idlib province.
A team from the Joint Special Operations Command carried out the operation after receiving actionable intelligence, sources told Newsweek. The location had been under surveillance for some time. A senior US defence official told CNN that the CIA had assisted in locating the ISIS leader.
Trump had hinted at the news hours earlier, tweeting that “something very big just happened”, however did not offer any more details ahead of Sunday’s White House press conference.
Reports from several US news sources published on Saturday evening suggested the leader had been killed, ahead of Trump’s live televised statement.
Al Baghdadi was born Ibrahim Awwad Ibrahim Ali al-Badri al-Samarrai in 1971 in Samarra, Iraq, and was first detained by US forces in Iraq in February 2004 when he was sent to Bucca prison because of anti-US militant activity, IS-affiliated websites report.
He later assumed control of the group, known at the time as the Islamic State of Iraq.
Under his watch, a group known as the Nusra Front were merged with Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant.
News of his death has been reported multiple times over the years, however these reports have never been confirmed.
In 2017, Russian officials said there was a “high probability” he had been killed in a Russian airstrike on the outskirts of Raqqa, however US officials later said they believed he was still alive.
The confirmation of his death is likely to be perceived as one of Trump’s most important national security achievements, particularly after weeks of scrutiny across the political spectrum after pulling US troops from Syria.
UK defence secretary Ben Wallace said in the moments after Trump’s announcement that the leader “would not be missed”, whilst foreign secretary Dominic Raab said the group must not be allowed to “glorify” al-Baghdadi.