President Donald Trump on Sunday said that elusive Islamic State leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi was killed, dying “like a dog,” in a daring, nighttime raid by US special forces deep in northwest Syria.
Trump told the nation in a televised address from the White House that US forces killed a “large number” of Islamic State militants during the raid which culminated in cornering Baghdadi in a tunnel, where he set off a suicide vest.
“He ignited his vest, killing himself,” Trump said.
“He died after running into a dead end tunnel, whimpering and crying and screaming all the way,” Trump said, adding that three of Baghdadi’s children also died in the blast.
“The thug who tried so hard to intimidate others spent his last moments in utter fear, panic, and dread, terrified of the American forces coming down on him,” Trump said.
“He reached the end of the tunnel as our dogs chased him down. He ignited his vest, killing himself and his three children. His body was mutilated by the blasts. The tunnel had caved on him.
“He was a sick and depraved man, and now he’s gone. He died like a dog; he died like a coward.”
The US president thanked Russia, Turkey, Syria and Iraq “for Baghdadi raid help” adding that “a large number of Baghdadi’s supporters died in the US raid”.
The president said Baghdadi’s “heavily armed lair” had been scoped out two weeks ago.
The special forces reportedly spent around two hours in the compound, searching the area and gathering highly sensitive information after al-Baghdadi had been killed.
Trump said that the raid — which required flying more than an hour by helicopter in both directions from an undisclosed base — had been accomplished by help from Russia, Syria, Turkey and Iraq.
Special forces “executed a dangerous and daring nighttime raid in northwestern Syria and accomplished their mission in grand style.”
At its height, Islamic State-controlled swaths of Iraq and Syria in a self-declared state known as a caliphate, characterized by the brutal imposition of a puritanical version of Islam.
In addition to oppressing the people it governed, Islamic State planned or inspired terrorism attacks across Europe, while using expertise in social media to lure large numbers of foreign volunteers.
It took years of war, in which Islamic State became notorious for mass executions and sickening hostage murders, before the caliphate’s final slice of territory in Syria was seized this March.
The death of Baghdadi comes as a big boost for Trump, whose abrupt decision to withdraw a small but effective deployment of US forces from Syria caused fears that it would give Islamic State remnants and sleeper cells a chance to regroup.
Trump took a storm of criticism, including from his own usually loyal Republican Party.
In keeping with his liking for showmanship, Trump had teased the news late Saturday with an enigmatic tweet saying merely that “Something very big has just happened!”