WASHINGTON: Islamic State leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi died in an operation by American Special Forces, US President
announced on Sunday, disclosing that the terrorist leader, cornered in a dead-end tunnel in a compound in northern
, exploded a suicide vest that also took the life of three children. Two of his wives died in the operation and US forces did not suffer any casualties, Trump added.
In a long, elaborate press conference that followed the announcement, about which he had given a head’s up on Twitter earlier, Trump repeatedly said Baghdadi died “like a dog … screaming and crying and whimpering … scared out of his mind”.
He also thanked Russia, Iraq, Turkey, Syria, and Syrian Kurds for their cooperation in allowing US Special Forces to conduct an operation that he said lasted about two hours and was two weeks in the making, although he had directed the hunt for Baghdadi from the day he (Trump) took office nearly three years ago.
“For many years, capturing or killing Baghdadi has been the top national security priority of my administration, US Special Operations Forces executed a dangerous and daring nighttime raid in northwestern Syria and accomplished their mission in grand style,” Trump said in remarks that was not only laced with triumphalism but also denigrated previous administrations and European allies and their action (or lack of it) on terrorism and terrorists, which only he had presciently understood.
Trump said he had watched the operation in the
Situation Room along with other vice-president Mike Pence, defense secretary Mike Esper, and other top US generals and intelligence officials as US forces with an elite dog squad chased Baghdadi into a tunnel which turned out to have a dead end. At this point Baghdadi exploded a suicide vest and the tunnel also collapsed, resulting in the death of a large number of his supporters and also mutilating his body. A US canine was injured in the operation, Trump added.
US forces conducted a DNA test that confirmed the terrorist leader’s identity. “The tests gave us an immediate and totally positive identification. It was him. 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.
“Baghdadi’s demise demonstrates America’s relentless pursuit of terrorists leaders, and our commitment to the enduring and total defeat of
, and other terrorist organizations. Our reach is very long,” the US President declared, recalling the killing of
son’s Hamza bin Laden and warning that “terrorists who murder innocent people should never sleep soundly knowing that we will completely destroy them.”
Trump, who had himself hinted at the operation last night by tweeting that something big had happened (followed by a White House announcement that he would be making a formal statement in the morning) said he had only tweeted about it after US forces were safely out of harm’s way. He said he had given a head’s up so that the media would not be out golfing or playing tennis on a Sunday morning.
Trump, who is the only president in the modern era not to have a pet in the White House, repeatedly invoked canine metaphors to describe how Baghdadi and his followers died.
A “sick and depraved” Baghdadi “died like a dog,” he said repeatedly, characterising the ISIS terrorist leader and his followers as “losers” who were cornered in a dead-end tunnel and died whimpering like “very frightened puppies.”