ISIS leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi has been killed, said US President Donald Trump in a televised address on Sunday.
“Last night, the United States brought the world’s number one terrorist leader to justice. Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi is dead,” said Trump.
Trump gave a detailed description of the US raid on al-Baghdadi’s compound, which he said he watched live last night. Al-Baghdadi died by detonating a suicide vest, having run into a “dead-end tunnel” being pursued by US troops.
“US personnel were incredible, I got to watch much of it. No personnel were lost in the operation,” said Trump. “He died after running into a dead-end tunnel, whimpering and crying and screaming all the way. The compound had been cleared by this time.”
“We took highly sensitive material from the raid. Much of it to do with ISIS,” added Trump, who described how children were removed from the compound while al-Baghdadi’s supporters were killed.
Trump went on to emphasize the importance of the event and praise the US for carrying out the operation.
“Al-Baghdadi’s demise demonstrates America’s relentless pursuit of terrorists … Our reach is very long,” said President Trump, as he described the “heinous” crimes committed by ISIS.
Trump also thanked Russia, Turkey, Syria, Iraq, as well as the Syrian Kurds, for their assistance in finding and killing al-Baghdadi.
Ending his speech by saying the world is now a safer place, Trump declared: “God Bless America.”
Answering questions after his confirmation of ISIS leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi’s death, Trump said that eight helicopters took place in the mission, which he described as highly dangerous.
“He died like a dog, he died like a coward,” reiterated Trump in response to one question. Trump added that he has been looking for al-Baghdadi for three years.
The US will be releasing details of how many ISIS fighters were killed in the raid during the next 24 hours, he added.
Responding to a question about whether he regreted pulling out US troops from northeast Syria after the help provided by the Syrian Kurds, Trump said he stuck by his decision. The US will stay and fight for the oil in northeastern Syria if it needs to, but it doesn't want to stay there, he said, claiming that Turkey and Syria have been fighting for thousands of years.
He also used the speech to condemn leaks from the White House and reiterate his praise for the US special forces.
Towards the end of the press conference, Trump repeated his claims that he had been pursuing al-Baghdadi for the whole three years of his presidency. He also claimed that he had opposed the 2003 Iraq War and that he had called for the death of al-Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden more than a year before the September 11 attacks in 2001.
Trump continued to give further details about the attack in response to questions, describing how al-Baghdadi killed three children when he detonated his suicide vest.
He ended the press conference by talking about Kayla Mueller, the American human rights activist who was held captive by ISIS before being killed in an airstrike, finishing by describing al-Baghdadi as a “gutless animal.”
The White House National Security Adviser Robert O’Brien said on Sunday that Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi’s remains will be “disposed of properly,” and that DNA confirmation came this morning.
Other countries react
Trump thanked Russia, Turkey, Syria, Iraq, as well as the Syrian Kurds, for their assistance in finding and killing al-Baghdadi.
After Trump's speech, Russia said that it had no reliable information concerning the US operation.
Earlier in the day, several of these parties had claimed a role in the operation.
"There has been intelligence work on the ground for five months, and a thorough pursuit until terrorist Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi was eliminated through this joint operation. We thank everyone who contributed to this great work," tweeted the Kurdish-led Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) Commander Mazloum Abdi.
Senior SDF official Redur Xelil said at a news conference that his forces would now intensify intelligence operations and efforts to chase down ISIS sleeper cells.
Turkey on Sunday said there was “coordination” between Ankara and Washington before the operation which US media reports said targeted and killed ISIS chief Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi.
“Prior to the US Operation in Idlib Province of Syria last night, information exchange and coordination between the military authorities of both countries took place,” the Turkish defense ministry said in a tweet.
It did not give details.
ISIS leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi arrived at the location in Syria where he was reportedly killed early on Sunday in a US raid some 48 hours before the operation, a senior Turkish official said.
The Turkish army had advance knowledge of the US operation in Syria’s Idlib, the official said, adding that Turkey would continue to coordinate its actions on the ground with the “relevant parties.”
Iraqi intelligence learned al-Baghdadi’s location and passed it on to the US after arresting an Iraqi man and woman from al-Baghdadi’s inner circle, an Iraqi intelligence official claimed on Sunday.
The detainees gave “valuable information” which led to a secret location in the Iraqi desert containing documents with al-Baghdadi’s location and movements, added the official.