IS Leader Died 'Whimpering, Crying, Screaming' During Syria Raid
Fugitive Islamic State leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi died “whimpering and crying” in a raid by U.S. special forces in northwest Syria, President Donald Trump announced.
Baghdadi killed himself during the raid by detonating a suicide vest after fleeing into a dead-end tunnel, Trump said in a televised address from the White House.
He was positively identified by DNA tests 15 minutes after he died, the president said.
“He was a sick and depraved man and now he’s gone,” said Trump, adding that capturing or killing Baghdadi had been the top national security priority for his administration.
The death of Baghdadi is a severe blow to Islamic State, which has been in disarray and has no declared successor as leader yet. But the group has in the past proved resilient, continuing to mount or inspire attacks in the region and beyond despite losing most of its territory in recent years.
Trump said “many” of Baghdadi’s people were killed in the raid and added that in blowing himself up, Baghdadi also killed three of his children.
U.S. forces suffered no personnel losses, he said. He also thanked Russia, Turkey, Syria and Iraq for their support.
Turkey said it was proud to have helped “bring a notorious terrorist to justice” and Israel’s Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu congratulated Trump on an “impressive achievement”.
But Russia’s response was muted, with the defense ministry in Moscow saying merely that it had no reliable information on the U.S. raid.
Baghdadi had long been sought by the United States as head of a jihadist group that at one point controlled large areas of Syria and Iraq, where it declared a caliphate. Islamic State has carried out atrocities against religious minorities and attacks on five continents in the name of an ultra-fanatic version of Islam that horrified mainstream Muslims.
“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,” Trump added.
“He died ... whimpering and crying and screaming.”
In the hours before Trump’s announcement, sources in the region had described the raid on a compound in the village of Barisha, in Idlib province bordering Turkey, in the early hours of Sunday.
“We woke up to the sound of planes, we went out and saw (forces) in front of us carrying weapons. ‘Get on the ground, get on the ground!’ (they said) so we went down,” one local resident told Reuters TV.
“They handcuffed us and put us to the side. [They asked] ’How do you know this man?’ We said we don’t know him, we would see people coming and going but we never interacted with them. So they said, ‘you are safe, stay to the side’.”
Iraqi state television broadcast night-time footage of an explosion and daytime images of a crater in the ground and what it said was the aftermath of the raid, including torn and blood-stained clothes.
Iraq’s military said later in a statement that its intelligence services had located Baghdadi’s whereabouts and had passed the information to the United States.
Trump said eight helicopters carried the U.S. special forces troops to the compound where Baghdadi was hiding, where they were met with gunfire before blasting their way in through the walls to avoid a booby-trapped main door.
The U.S. forces spent around two hours in the compound, he said, adding that they had taken away “sensitive information” relating to Islamic State.
Russia “treated us great” by opening up airspace it controlled for the raid and Kurdish allies gave some helpful information, according to Trump. The Russian defense ministry, however, said it was not aware of any assistance to U.S. forces.
The president said he watched the operation unfold in the Situation Room of the White House, with Vice President Mike Pence, Defense Secretary Mark Esper and the joint military chiefs. He added that Russia had not been aware of the nature of the U.S. mission.
Trump had faced withering criticism from fellow Republicans and Democrats for announcing a withdrawal of U.S. troops from northeastern Syria earlier this month, which permitted Turkey to attack America’s Kurdish allies as it sought to set up a “safe zone”.
Trump said the raid would not change his decision to withdraw troops from Syria.