US president Donald Trump on Sunday announced Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, the elusive leader of the Islamic State, died “like a dog (and) a coward .. whimpering, screaming and crying” in a night-time raid by American special forces on a compound in northwestern Syria.
Baghdadi blew himself up, detonating a suicide vest, trapped in one in a tunnel with US special ops dogs chasing after him. The president said the IS leader “dragged” three of his young children into the tunnel to “certain death”; 11 other children were unhurt. Baghdadi’s two wives were also killed.
No American personnel were injured or killed in the operation that lasted two hours. A dog used by the special operations forces was hurt.
“Last night, the United States brought the world’s Number One terrorist to justice,” Trump said in remarks from the White House. “Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi is dead.”
Trump went on to draw a strikingly vivid picture of the IS leader’s last moments.“He died after running into a dead-end tunnel, whimpering and crying and screaming,” he said, adding, “He ignited his vest, killing himself and the three children. His body was mutilated by the blast, but test results gave certain and positive identification.”
The president chose harsh words to send a message to IS fighters and said he wanted it be “brought out” how their leader died. “He didn’t die a hero. He died a coward,” Trump said.0 At another point, he said Baghdadi “died like a dog”.
Baghdadi, who carried a US reward of $25 million, had been the target of a long-running manhunt and had narrowly survived one such raid with severe injuries before.
He killed himself by detonating his suicide vest, which he wore at all times, according to reports, bringing down the whole tunnel on himself, his wives and children.
While confined geographically to areas captured from Iraq and Syria, the IS had inspired and carried out terrorist attacks around the world with the Easter Sunday attacks in Sri Lanka earlier this year being the worst, with 259 dead. The outfit also spawned affiliates in different regions such as the Islamic State- Khorasan in India’s neighborhood, and drew fighters from many countries.
Trump said the operation that culminated in the killing of Baghdadi started two weeks ago. And on Saturday, action began at around 5 pm US eastern time when he entered the situation room in the White House to watch the live-feed along with vice-president Mike Pence and other senior officials. “It was like watching a movie,” he said.
According to details revealed by the American president, US special operations personnel landed outside Baghdadi’s compound in eight helicopters . They blew holes into the building from the outside as the entrance doors were booby-trapped.
American forces also seized “highly sensitive material and information” about ISIS and its future plans. The nature of this material remained unclear. US Navy SEALS had carried about massive amount of documents and information from the raid that killed Osama bin laden in Pakistan in 2011, which had shown how the al Qaeda leader ran the outfit and, among other things, was grooming his son Hamza bin Laden to take over after him.
Hamza bin Laden’s killing by American forces was announced earlier by Trump, who referenced it in his Sunday remarks as evidence of his administration’s tough posture against terrorism. “The reach of America is long. As you know, last month we announced that we recently killed Hamza Bin Laden, the very violent son of Osama Bin Laden, who was saying very bad things.
Trump thanked Russia, Syria, Iraq, Turkey and Syrian Kurds for cooperation, but insisted the operation had been kept a secret from them.
Baghdadi’s killing will be a major foreign policy victory for Trump, who has struggled for one so far. His most ambitious move, the North Korea peace initiative, which he had expected to win him a Nobel, is stuck in the kind of paralysis that afflicted all previous attempts. Other efforts such as on West Asia and Afghanistan talks remain works in progress.
Trump will expect the killing to boost his presidency at home where he is mired in an impeachment inquiry that is moving rapidly towards a vote to identify the articles of impeachment — specific grounds for seeking his removal from office — in the House of Representatives. The last and final stage will be a trial in the Republican-controlled US senate, which he is expected to survive.