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Trump confirms death of IS chief Baghdadi in US raid

  • Published at 07:46 pm October 27th, 2019
US President Donald Trump, centre, watching in the Situation Room at the White House as US Special Operations forces close in on IS leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi on October 27, 2019 AFP

Baghdadi's death provides a big political boost for Trump, who faces an impeachment inquiry and whose abrupt decision to withdraw a small but effective deployment of US forces from Syria raised fears that it would allow Islamic State remnants to regroup

President Donald Trump on Sunday said that elusive Islamic State leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi was killed, dying "like a dog," in a daring, night-time 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 with Baghdadi cornered in a tunnel, where he detonated 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.

Trump said that the raid - involving eight helicopters flying more than an hour from an undisclosed base - was accomplished with help or cooperation from Russia, Syria, Turkey and Iraq. He also thanked the Syrian Kurds "for a certain support they were able to give us."

Special forces "executed a dangerous and daring night-time raid in north-western Syria and accomplished their mission in grand style," he said.

Trump's national security adviser, Robert O'Brien, described the dramatic message the president and his advisers received as they monitored the raid from the White House Situation Room.

"The commander of the mission called and said, '100 percent confidence, Jackpot'" - meaning Baghdadi was dead - O'Brien said on NBC. "That was great news for us."

At its height, Islamic State controlled swaths of Iraq and Syria in a self-declared state known as a caliphate, brutally imposing a puritanical version of Islam.

The group planned or inspired terrorism attacks across Europe, while using 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 beheadings, before its final slice of territory in Syria was seized this March.

Baghdadi's death provides a big political boost for Trump, who faces an impeachment inquiry and whose abrupt decision to withdraw a small but effective deployment of US forces from Syria raised fears that it would allow Islamic State remnants to regroup.

Trump took a storm of criticism, including from his own Republican Party.

News of the raid, however, drew praise from several world leaders, coupled with caution that the IS threat may not be fully vanquished.

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan said on Twitter that it was "a turning point in our joint fight against terrorism."

British Prime Minister Boris Johnson called the raid "an important moment in our fight against terror" but cautioned that the fight was "not yet over."

But Russia raised doubts about the death claim. "The Defence Ministry does not have reliable information concerning the umpteenth 'death' of Baghdadi," spokesman Igor Konashenkov said in a statement.

Baghdadi's death has been reported several times over the years.

Trump said there was no doubt, however. While "there wasn't much left" of Baghdadi, field testing of his DNA confirmed his identity, the president said.

And Defence Secretary Mark Esper told CNN the raiding team had both visual and DNA confirmation Baghdadi was dead.

In Washington, Democrats commended the intelligence community and military professionals involved but cautioned that the IS threat was not over, particularly after Trump's abrupt decision to pull most US troops out of Syria.

House speaker Nancy Pelosi said that "the House must be briefed on this raid," adding that "the Russians, but not top congressional leadership, were notified" in advance. 

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