Saturday 14 December, 2019

Trump says Islamic State leader dead after US raid in Syria

This file image made from video posted on a militant website April 29, 2019, purports to show the leader of the Islamic State group, Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, being interviewed by his group's Al-Furqan media outlet.

This file image made from video posted on a militant website April 29, 2019, purports to show the leader of the Islamic State group, Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, being interviewed by his group's Al-Furqan media outlet.

The shadowy leader of the Islamic State group who presided over its global jihad and became arguably the world's most wanted man, is dead after being targeted by a US military raid in Syria, President Donald Trump said Sunday.

"Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi is dead," Trump announced at the White House, saying the US had "brought the world's number one terrorist leader to justice."

Addressing the nation from the White House on Sunday morning, Trump described a daring nighttime airborne raid by American special operations forces in Syria's northwestern Idlib province and said they flew over heavily militarized territory controlled by multiple nations and forces.

No US troops were killed in the operation, Trump said.

The death of al-Baghdadi marked a major milestone in the fight against the Islamic State, which brutalized swaths of Syria and Iraq and sought to direct a global terrorism campaign from a self-declared "caliphate."

 A year’s long campaign by American and allied forces led to the recapture of the group's territorial holding, but its violent ideology has continued to inspire attacks.

As US forces bore down on al-Baghdadi, he fled into a "dead-end" tunnel with three of his children, Trump said, and detonated a suicide vest.

"He was a sick and depraved man, and now he's gone," Trump said. "He died like a dog, he died like a coward."

Al-Baghdadi's identity was positively confirmed by a DNA test conducted onsite, Trump said.

Trump on late Saturday had teased a major announcement, tweeting that "Something very big has just happened!" By the morning, he was thanking Russia, Turkey, Syria and Iraq, as well as Kurdish fighters in Syria for their support.

The operation marks a significant foreign policy success for Trump, coming at one of the lowest points in his presidency as he is mired in impeachment proceedings and facing widespread Republican condemnation for his Syria policy.

The recent pullback of US troops he ordered from northeastern Syria raised a storm of bipartisan criticism in Washington that the militant group could regain strength after it had lost vast stretches of territory it had once controlled.

Trump said the troop pullout "had nothing to do with this."

Planning for the operation began two weeks ago, Trump said, after the US gained unspecified intelligence on al-Baghdadi's whereabouts. Eight military helicopters flew for more than an hour over territory controlled by Russian and Syrian forces, Trump said, before landing under gunfire at the compound.

Trump vividly described the raid and took extensive questions from reporters for more than 45 minutes Sunday.

He said US forces breached the walls of the building because the doors were booby-trapped and chased al-Baghdadi into the tunnel, which partially collapsed after al-Baghdadi detonated the suicide vest.

Trump said a military dog was injured by the explosive blast.

He also revealed that US forces spent roughly two hours on the ground collecting intelligence.

Trump said he watched the operation from the White House Situation room as it played out live "as though you were watching a movie."

He suggested he may order the release of the video so that the world knows al-Baghdadi did not die of a hero and spent his final moments "crying, "whimpering" and "screaming."

Trump said he teased the announcement as soon as American forces landed safely in a third-country.

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