US President Donald Trump has confirmed the death of ISIL leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi in a military operation in Syria’s northwestern Idlib province.
Trump said on Sunday the ISIL leader died after running into a dead-end tunnel and igniting an explosive vest during the raid, killing himself along with three of his children. A large number of his companions were also killed in the raid, he said during the address at the White House.
Al-Baghdadi’s 11 other children were “uninjured”, Trump said, and were left under the care of an unnamed third party.
Speaking from the White House’s Diplomatic Room, the president said that al-Baghdadi spent his last moments in utter fear and claims that he was “whimpering” and died as “a coward, running and crying.”
According to him, the US received immediate and positive identification on the body and that the world is now a much safer place.
“His body was mutilated by the blast. The tunnel had caved in on it in addition. But test results gave certain immediate and totally positive identification. It was him,” Trump told reporters.
“The thug who tried so hard to intimidate others spent his last moments in utter fear, in total panic and dread, terrified of the American forces bearing down on him,” Trump continued.
No US troops were injured in the operation, the US president said, adding that sensitive information was taken from the compound by US Special Forces.
The so-called Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL), which at one point controlled swathes of Syria and Iraq, committed atrocities against religious minorities and were behind attacks in several countries.
Al-Baghdadi became arguably the world’s most wanted man, and had a $25m US bounty on his head.
He kept a low public profile in recent years, releasing only sporadic audio recordings. In a recording just last month, he called on members of the group to do all they could to free ISIL detainees and women held in jails and camps.
That purported audio was his first public statement since last April, when he appeared in a video for the first time in five years. The video included images of the ISIL leader sitting in a white room with three others as he praised Easter Day bombings that killed more than 250 people in Sri Lanka.
Trump’s latest announcement comes as the US leader has been on the receiving end of bipartisan criticism in Washington following the recent pullback of US troops from northeastern Syria.
Critics fear that the decision will allow ISIL to regain strength after it had lost vast stretches of territory it had once controlled. But Trump reiterated his position and said his administration was not considering US withdrawal from Syria.
The Turkish Defence ministry said in a statement that Turkey and the US had exchanged information on a US-led raid in Syria’s Idlib.
SOURCE: Al Jazeera and news agencies