Amid a cryptic tweet by US President Donald Trump on Saturday exclaiming that 'Something very big has just happened', US media and sources to Republic said that the US forces killed ISIS chief Abu Bakr Al Baghdadi during a raid. The story is still developing, but international media has reported that Baghdadi has died in the US action. This is yet to officially confirmed by US administration.
A White House spokesman, Hogan Gidley, said that the US president would be making a "major statement" at 9:00 a.m. EDT on Sunday. Meanwhile, the Associated Press reported that Islamic State al-Baghdadi is believed to be dead following US military raid. Calling al-Baghdadi a 'shadowy leader of the Islamic State group who presided over its global jihad' and the 'world's most wanted man', the AP report said that he is believed to be killed after being targeted by a US action in Syria.
As per the AP report, a US official on the condition of anonymity said on late Saturday that al-Baghdadi was targeted in Syria's northwestern Idlib province. The official said confirmation that the IS chief was killed in an explosion is pending and no details were available at the moment. If confirmed, the operation's success could prove a major boost for Trump, the report said. His decision to remove US troops from northeastern Syria received bipartisan criticism where the politicians raised concern that the militant group could regain strength after it had lost vast stretches of the territory it had once controlled.
Syrian Kurdish forces said 'joint intel' with the US had led to the operation against al Baghdadi. Meanwhile, as per reports, Turkey was not aware of any operation on Baghdadi and were informed after the IS chief died. Official statements regarding this are yet to be made. Iran was informed by sources in Syria that Islamic State leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi was killed.
Newsweek first reported that the world's most wanted man was believed to have been killed. President Trump approved the mission nearly a week before it took place, it said. Citing a senior Pentagon official familiar with the operation and Army official briefed on the matter, it said that Baghdadi was the target of the top-secret operation in the last bastion of Syria's Islamist-dominated opposition.
The Pentagon official said there was a brief exchange of fire when US forces entered the compound in Idlib's Barisha village and that Baghdadi then killed himself by detonating a suicide vest. The official said that the compound in which Baghdadi was located was then taken out with an airstrike. Quoting Pentagon sources, Newsweek said two wives of Baghdadi were killed after detonating their own explosive vests.
The Joint Special Operations Command's Delta Team carried out the operation after receiving actionable intelligence, it said, citing sources familiar with the operation. The location had been under surveillance for some time.
The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, a Syria war monitor, reported an attack carried out by a squadron of eight helicopters accompanied by a warplane belonging to the international coalition on positions of the Hurras al-Deen, an al-Qaida-linked group, in the Barisha area north of Idlib city, after midnight on Saturday. IS operatives are believed to be hiding in the area, it said. It said the helicopters targeted IS positions with heavy strikes for about 120 minutes, during which jihadists fired at the aircraft with heavy weapons.
The Britain-based Observatory, which operates through a network of activists on the ground, documented the death of nine people as a result of the coalition helicopter attack. It is not yet known whether al-Baghdadi is one of them, it said, adding that the death toll is likely to rise due to the large number of wounded.
Al-Baghdadi's presence in the village, which is a few kilometres away from the Turkish border, would come as a surprise, even if some IS leaders are believed to have fled to Idlib after losing their last territories in Syria to U.S.-allied Kurdish forces in March. The surrounding areas are largely controlled by a rival of the Islamic State group — the al-Qaida-linked Hayat Tahrir al-Sham, or HTS — although other jihadi groups sympathetic to IS operate there. Unverified video circulated online by Syrian groups appeared to support the Observatory claim that the operation occurred in Barisha.
Al-Baghdadi has led IS for the last five years, presiding over its ascendancy as it cultivated a reputation for beheadings and attracted hundreds of thousands of followers to a sprawling and self-styled caliphate in Iraq and Syria. He remained among the few IS commanders still at large despite multiple claims in recent years about his death and even as his so-called caliphate dramatically shrank, with many supporters who joined the cause either imprisoned or jailed. His exhortations were instrumental in inspiring terrorist attacks in the heart of Europe and in the United States. Shifting away from the airline hijackings and other mass-casualty attacks that came to define al-Qaida, al-Baghdadi and other IS leaders supported smaller-scale acts of violence that would be harder for law enforcement to prepare for and prevent.
They encouraged jihadists who could not travel to the caliphate to kill where they were, with whatever weapon they had at their disposal. In the U.S., multiple extremists have pledged their allegiance to al-Baghdadi on social media, including a woman who along with her husband committed a 2015 massacre at a holiday party in San Bernardino, California. With a $25 million U.S. bounty on his head, al-Baghdadi has been far less visible in recent years, releasing only sporadic audio recordings, including one just last month in which he called on members of the extremist group to do all they could to free IS detainees and women held in jails and camps.
The purported audio was his first public statement since last April, when he appeared in a video for the first time in five years.
In 2014, he was a black-robed figure delivering a sermon from the pulpit of Mosul's Great Mosque of al-Nuri, his only known public appearance. He urged Muslims around the world to swear allegiance to the caliphate and obey him as its leader.
"It is a burden to accept this responsibility to be in charge of you," he said in the video. "I am not better than you or more virtuous than you. If you see me on the right path, help me. If you see me on the wrong path, advise me and halt me. And obey me as far as I obey God."
Though at minimum a symbolic victory for Western counterterrorism efforts, his death would have an unknown practical impact on possible future attacks. He had been largely regarded as a symbolic figurehead of the global terror network and was described as "irrelevant for a long time" by a coalition spokesman in 2017.
(Inputs from agencies)