Washington (MEE– Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, the leader of the Islamic State group (IS), has been killed in a US raid in northwestern Syria, US President Donald Trump said.

Speaking to the reporters on Sunday, Trump said Baghdadi died after detonating a suicide belt in a tunnel with three children after American special forces raided his compound.

“Last night the United States brought the world’s worst terrorist to justice. Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi is dead,” Trump said.

“He died after running into a dead-end tunnel, whimpering, crying and screaming all the way.

“As our dogs chased him down, he ignited his [suicide] vest, killing himself and three children.

“His body was mutilated by the blast, the tunnel had caved in on him, but tests results gave complete identification – it was him.”

Related: ISIS Flees Mosul, Leaves Behind Saudi And Turkish Weapons

The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights activist group reported earlier on Sunday that a squadron of eight helicopters accompanied by a warplane belonging to the international coalition attacked positions of the Hurras al-Deen, an al-Qaeda affiliated group, where IS operatives were believed to be hiding.

The Observatory said that nine people had died in the attack on Syria’s northwestern Idlib province, some 5km from the Turkish border.

Trump added that “eleven children were removed out of the house and are uninjured,” while the remaining IS supporters with Baghdadi either surrendered or were killed.

Baghdadi, who led IS for the last five years and the Islamic State in Iraq four years before that, was thought to be hiding somewhere along the Iraq-Syria border.

He remained among a few IS commanders still at large despite multiple claims in recent years about his death.

Related: Iraqi Senior Leader: Abu Bakr Al-Baghdadi Is Alive and in US Hands

Last month, IS issued a 30-minute audio message purporting to come from Baghdadi, in which he said operations were taking place daily and called on supporters to free women jailed in camps in Syria and Iraq over their alleged links to his group.

In the message, Baghdadi also said the US and its proxies had been defeated in Iraq and Afghanistan, and that the US had been “dragged” into Mali and Niger.

‘Major statement’

The strike against Baghdadi comes amid concerns that a recent US pullback from northeastern Syria could infuse new strength into the group, which had lost the vast stretches of the territory it had once controlled.

At its peak, IS-controlled territory the size of the UK, and some 10 million people lived under the militant group’s control.

The Trump administration has faced withering criticism from Republicans and Democrats alike for his troop withdrawal from northeastern Syria, which paved the way for Turkey to attack the US’s Kurdish allies.

Turkey’s defense ministry said that Turkish and US military authorities exchanged and coordinated information ahead of the attack.

“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 ministry said on Twitter.

Meanwhile, in an apparent reference to the reports surrounding Baghdadi’s death, Mazloum Abdi, the commander of the Kurdish-led Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) militia, said a “successful operation” resulted from the joint intelligence work with the US.

“An historic, successful operation as a result of joint intelligence work with the United States of America,” Abidi said on Twitter.

Related: Russian MoD: Al-Baghdadi Possibly Killed in Airstrike

Many critics of Trump’s Syria pull-out have expressed worries that it would allow IS to regain strength and pose a threat to US interests. However, Sunday’s announcement about Baghdadi’s death could help blunt those concerns.

Despite losing its last significant territory, IS is believed to have sleeper cells around the world, and some fighters operate from the shadows in Syria’s desert and Iraq’s cities.

This post was originally written for and published by Middle East Eye and appears here with permission.


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