President Donald Trump confirmed Sunday morning that a U.S. operation conducted in northwest Syria on Saturday night had successfully targeted and killed Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, the leader of the Islamic State terror group.
“Last night the United States brought the world’s number one terrorist leader to justice,” Trump said. “Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi is dead.”
The Army’s elite Delta Force carried out the mission with the CIA, providing intelligence and reconnaissance information on the ground, an official told the New York Times.
The president said that no U.S. personnel were lost in the operation. Trump said Baghdadi was under surveillance for a couple of weeks but that an earlier operation had been canceled due to Baghdadi’s movements.
The president said U.S. troops cornered Baghdadi, who retreated into a tunnel with three children.
“He died after running into a dead-end tunnel, whimpering and crying and screaming all the way,” Trump said. “He reached the end of the tunnel as our dogs chased him down.”
Baghdadi blew himself up with a suicide vest, killing himself and three children he'd brought with him, Trump said, adding that the tunnel collapsed, and his body was “mutilated,” but that DNA tests had proved his identity.
“It was him,” Trump said. “These savage monsters will not escape their fate.”
Trump said U.S. personnel took “highly sensitive” information, including documents, from the compound, much of it related to ISIS.
“We took highly sensitive information from the raid, much having to do with ISIS, future plans, things we very much want,” Trump said.
“I got to watch much of it,” Trump said, praising the technology that allowed the small group in the Situation Room to watch the raid unfold in real time like “watching a movie.”
Baghdadi took over leadership of the Islamic State in 2010 when his predecessor, Abu Omar al-Baghdadi, was killed.
Trump derided Baghdadi’s followers variously as “losers,” “very frightened puppies,” and “hard-core killers.” Trump repeatedly returned to what he described as Baghdadi’s cowardice in his final moments, saying Baghdadi “died like a dog,” “died like a coward,” and died “running and crying.”
He said 11 children where pulled alive from the compound, and that two of Baghdadi's wives were killed wearing undetonated suicide vests, which slowed the recovery operation.
Trump thanked Russia, Syria, Turkey, and Iraq for their help in conducting the attack, and also thanked the Syrian Kurds who provided intelligence for the operation. “Russia was great, Iraq was excellent,” Trump said.
Earlier, the commander of the Kurdish-led Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF), Mazloum Abdi, called the operation an “historic, successful operation” that had resulted from “joint intelligence work” with the U.S.
The raid took place at a compound in Idlib province, a long way from where Baghdadi was believed to be hiding along the Syrian-Iraqi border. Idlib is controlled by jihadi rebel groups hostile to ISIS.
Eight helicopters landed on the scene and commandos stormed Baghdadi’s hideout by blowing “holes in the side of the building" to avoid the booby-trapped front entrance, Trump said.
Trump said the Kurds “gave us some information that turned out to be helpful” — a point likely to prove controversial in light of accusations that Trump’s recent pullout of U.S. troops in northeastern Syria abandoned the Kurds to an assault by Turkish forces.
Trump had teased that “something very big has just happened” in a tweet at 9:30 p.m. ET on Saturday night.
A resident in the village of Barisha in Idlib province described a dramatic military operation late on Saturday night, telling the BBC that helicopters had launched an assault that lasted 30 minutes, firing missiles at two houses and flattening one, before troops became active on the ground.
Cover: An image grab taken from a video released on July 5, 2014 by Al-Furqan Media shows alleged Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi preaching during Friday prayer at a mosque in Mosul.(Photo by Al-Furqan Media/Anadolu Agency/Getty Images)