File photo from Al-Furqan Media/AFP
MANILA, Philippines (4th UPDATE) – US President Donald Trump on Sunday, October 27, confirmed that Islamic State (ISIS) leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi was killed in a special operation in northwest Syria.
“Last night, the United States brought the world’s No. 1 terrorist leader to justice. Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi is dead," Trump said in a televised broadcast.
He said the US special operation forces executed the "dangerous and daring nighttime raid" in northwestern Syria, and that he "got to watch most" of the raid – an experience he likened to "watching a movie" in terms of clarity of the images.
"He died like a dog. He died like a coward. The world is now a much better place. God bless America," Trump said.
Relaying what he had witnessed, Trump said Baghdadi with 3 children ran into a dead end tunnel. When the ISIS leader reached the end of the tunnel, he reportedly "ignited his vest, killing himself and 3 children."
"Our reach is long," Trump said.
Responding to reporters' questions, the US leader said the operation involved "only American forces but with great cooperation" from Russia, Turkey, Iraq, "Syria to an extent," and also the Syrian Kurds.
Several world leaders joined in the approbation, though some added words of caution.
Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan said on Twitter that it was "a turning point in our joint fight against terrorism."
British Prime Minister Boris Johnson called the raid "an important moment in our fight against terror" but cautioned that the fight was "not yet over."
An Iranian government spokesman, Ali Rabiei, tweeted that Baghdadi's death was not the end of IS terror "but just the end of a chapter."
But Russia raised doubts. "The Defense Ministry does not have reliable information... concerning the umpteenth 'death' of Baghdadi," spokesman Igor Konashenkov said in a statement.
Trump said special forces "executed a dangerous and daring nightime raid in northwestern Syria and accomplished their mission in grand style."
At its height, the Islamic State controlled swaths of Iraq and Syria in a self-declared state known as a caliphate, characterized by the brutal imposition of a puritanical version of Islam.
In addition to oppressing the people it governed, Islamic State planned or inspired terrorism attacks across Europe, while using expertise in social media to lure large numbers of foreign volunteers.
It took years of war, in which Islamic State became notorious for mass executions and sickening hostage murders, before the caliphate's final slice of territory in Syria was seized this March.
The death of Baghdadi comes as a big boost for Trump, whose abrupt decision to withdraw a small but effective deployment of US forces from Syria caused fears that it would give Islamic State remnants and sleeper cells a chance to regroup.
Baghdadi is considered the world's most wanted man.
US media outlets earlier ran stories on his death, citing multiple government sources that the secret operation against the ISIS chief was approved by Trump.
The reports were sparked by Trump's earlier tweet that "something very big has just happened!"
Prior to his death, Baghdadi has been very elusive, with the US State Department posting a $25 million reward for details on his location. He only resurfaced after almost 5 years in April 2019 through a video wherein he urged followers to avenge killed ISIS members.
Trump said there was no doubt, however, saying a DNA field test had confirmed his identity.
And Defense Secretary Mark Esper – who issued a statement hailing "a great day for America and a great day for the world" – told CNN the raiding team had both visual and DNA confirmation. – With reports from Agence France-Presse/Rappler.com