Islamic State leader Abu Bakr Al Baghdadi was killed during a US military operation in northwestern Syria, US President Donald Trump said on Sunday.
“Abu Bakr Al Baghdadi was killed”, Trump said in a White House speech.
The killing of the world’s most wanted man, responsible for many atrocities, crimes in Iraq and Syria, and bloody attacks in many countries, have been repeatedly announced in recent years.
Trump said Baghdadi, the self-proclaimed “caliph” of an “Islamic state” that once controlled seven million people over an area of more than 240,000 square kilometers between Syria and Iraq in 2014, was killed “like a dog”.
“He was not killed as a hero, he was killed like a coward”, he said, adding that he detonated his explosive vest after taking refuge with three of his children in a tunnel dug to protect him, stressing that he was killed with them.
“Capturing or killing Al Baghdadi was the absolute priority of my administration”, he said in a reply to reporters’ questions.
On March 23, the SDF announced the elimination of the Islamic State’s “caliphate” after its expulsion, with the support of the US-led international coalition, from its last enclave in Baghouz, in the far east of Syria.
“It was like watching a movie”, he said, thanking Russia, Turkey, Syria, Iraq and the Kurds for their help in the process.
The Iraqi National Intelligence Service said on Sunday it had provided information to US forces that identified Baghdadi’s whereabouts.
In the first reaction to the announcement, British Prime Minister Boris Johnson on Sunday praised the killing of Baghdadi, saying it was an “important moment” but stressed at the same time that “the battle against the evil of ISIS is not over yet”.
For his part, the commander of the SDF, Mazloum Abdi, predicted that “the sleeper cells will avenge Baghdadi. So everything is expected.
Including attacking prisons” under the guard of his forces, where thousands of members of the organization are detained.
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu welcomed the news of Baghdadi’s death, describing the operation as an “important event”.
The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights reported that US helicopters landed commando units on the ground after midnight Saturday in Idlib province northwest as part of an operation targeting the leaders of the Islamic State, indicating clashes between them and jihadists.
According to the Observatory, a squadron of eight helicopters carried out the attack in Parisha, on the Turkish border, in an area where ISIS and Huras Al Din elements were present, killing at least nine people, including two women and a child.
Abdulhamid, a resident of Parisha who went to the site of the attack early in the morning, told AFP that he saw “a house destroyed on the ground, along with damaged tents and a damaged civilian car, including two people killed”.
An AFP reporter who arrived in Parisha was able to see the structure of a charred minibus hit by the strikes.
Ahmed Al Hasawi, a resident of the area, pointed to air strikes after midnight.
He said planes were “flying at very low altitudes, causing great panic among people”.
The operation “continued until 3.30 am”, he said.
These developments come as northern Syria is witnessing intensive military activity.
Syrian and Russian forces have been deployed in the Syrian-Turkish border area in recent days, while the Americans sent reinforcements to an oil-controlled east of the Kurdish region, following a Turkish attack on the Kurds that began on October 9 and was suspended on October 17 to complete.
The withdrawal of the Kurds from a “safe area” defined by Ankara at a depth of 30 km and a length of 440 km.