Fugitive leader of Boko Haram affiliated group, Islamic State (ISIS), Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, is dead. He was killed in a United States (U.S.) military operation in northwest Syria, President Donald Trump has said.
Speaking from the White House, Trump said al-Baghdadi detonated his suicide vest after being caught at the end of a tunnel by Special Forces.
Baghdadi came to prominence in 2014, when he announced the creation of a “caliphate” in areas of Iraq and Syria.
The group then carried out multiple atrocities that resulted in thousands of deaths.
In March 2O15, Boko Haram posted a message, pledging its allegiance to ISIS.
“We announce to you to the good news of the expansion of the caliphate to West Africa because the caliph … has accepted the allegiance of our brothers of the Sunni group for preaching and the jihad,” ISIS spokesman Abu Muhammad al-Adnani said in the message, using the Arabic name for Nigeria’s Boko Haram extremist group.
The killing of Baghdadi was a major victory for Trump, who has been heavily criticised for his decision to pull U.S. troops out of northern Syria earlier this month and is fighting an impeachment inquiry launched by Democrats.
In an unusual statement on Sunday, Trump said Baghdadi died after running into a dead-end tunnel in Idlib Province, “whimpering, crying and screaming all the way”, as he was chased by U.S. dogs.
Baghdadi was accompanied by three of his young children, Trump said, and detonated his suicide vest, killing them all. The blast mutilated Baghdadi’s body but DNA tests confirmed his identity.
“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 said.
The location in Idlib Province was far from where Baghdadi had been thought to be hiding on the Syria-Iraq border. Many parts of Idlib are under the control of jihadists opposed to ISIS, but rival groups are suspected of sheltering ISIS militants.
Baghdadi had been under surveillance for “a couple of weeks” and several other raids had been cancelled because of his movements, the president said, describing the location as a “compound”.
No U.S. soldiers had been killed but a number of Baghdadi’s followers also died while others were captured, Trump said, adding that “highly sensitive material and information” had been gathered.
A resident in Barisha, where the raid reportedly took place, said helicopters shot for 30 minutes late on Saturday, before troops became active on the ground. Helicopters fired at two houses, flattening one, he said.
Syrian Kurdish-led forces – one of the main U.S. allies in northern Syria until President Trump withdrew U.S. troops from the area this month – said they had carried out a “historic” joint operation.
Trump praised them, as well as Russia, Iraq, Turkey and Syria for giving “certain support” to the operation.