‘Died like a coward’: ISIS leader is killed

Trump hails US commandos’ daring nighttime raid

- David Jackson, Courtney Subramania­n and Michael Collins

“The world is now a much safer place,” President Donald Trump declared in a televised national address early Sunday from the White House. ANDREW HARNIK/AP

WASHINGTON – President Donald Trump said Sunday that terrorist leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, perhaps the world’s most wanted man, was killed in a special operations raid over the weekend.

“Last night the United States brought the world’s No. 1 terrorist leader to justice,” Trump said at the White House early Sunday in a televised address to the nation.

Al-Baghdadi led the extremist organizati­on known as the Islamic State, or ISIS. Trump said he died after running from a house into a dead-end tunnel while being chased by U.S. commandos in northwest Syria. Al-Baghdadi detonated a suicide vest that killed him and three of his children, Trump said.

“He died like a dog,” Trump said. “He died like a coward. The world is now a much safer place.

“He was a sick and depraved man, and now he’s gone.”

U.S. commandos launched the raid late Saturday, Trump said. News reports said the raid’s target was al-Baghdadi, who was located with the assistance of the CIA. No U.S. personnel were killed, Trump said.

Trump said U.S. forces “accomplish­ed their mission in grand style” in a “dangerous and daring nighttime raid.” It lasted about two hours, he said. U.S. forces seized “highly sensitive informatio­n,” including informatio­n about ISIS origins and future plans.

Al-Baghdadi’s body was “mutilated by the blast,” and the tunnel had caved in because of the explosion, Trump said. Rubble had to be removed to get to the body, and an on-site DNA test was done.

The test results gave immediate and positive identifica­tion, Trump said.

Eleven children were removed from the house, according to the president, but it was unclear to whom they belonged. He said some fighters at the scene were taken and imprisoned.

Al-Baghdadi spent his “last moments in utter fear, in total panic and dread, terrified of the American forces bearing down on him,” Trump said.

Trump said he and Vice President Mike Pence watched much of the mission from the White House Situation Room. Al-Baghdadi spent his final moments “whimpering and crying and screaming all the way,” he said.

Trump did not confirm how many people were killed in the raid, but the Syrian Observator­y for Human Rights had reported at least eight deaths.

Two women whom Trump described as wives of al-Baghdadi were found wearing vests that had not been detonated. Both women were killed.

The announceme­nt came three weeks after Trump announced the withdrawal of U.S. troops from northern Syria, which allowed Turkish forces to sweep into the area and attack Kurdish rivals. The decision drew bipartisan criticism that Trump had abandoned a former ally that had fought ISIS alongside U.S. forces. The renewed fighting also led to the release of a number of ISIS fighters who had been imprisoned by the Kurds.

Both the Kurds and the Turks said they assisted the U.S. raid.

Mazloum Abdi, commanding general of the Kurdish-led Syrian Democratic Forces, said on the organizati­on’s official Twitter account: “Successful & historical operation due to a joint intelligen­ce work with the United States of America.” In another tweet, the Turkey Ministry of National Defense said: “Prior to the US Operation in Idlib Province of Syria last night, informatio­n exchange and coordinati­on between the military authoritie­s of both countries took place,”

Trump signaled the news Saturday night with an enigmatic tweet saying that “something very big has just happened!” About 90 minutes later, the White House announced Trump would make “a major statement” from the White House on Sunday morning.

Al-Baghdadi appeared in an ISIS video in late April, his first public appearance in nearly five years, praising Easter attacks in Sri Lanka against Catholic churches and high-end hotels that killed more than 250 people, including at least four Americans.

Trump critics took issue with the television-drama-like announceme­nt.

“So Trump has to Trump even the apparent killing of al-Baghdadi,” tweeted Robert E. Kelly, professor of political science at Pusan National University in South Korea. “He had to leak on Twitter to create hype & suspense and grab the news cycle. He can never rise to the moment. Maybe the announceme­nt will finally display some gravitas, not gloating.”

Diane Foley, whose son James was one of the American captives murdered on camera by members of the group, said she was thankful to the president and U.S. troops.

“I am grateful to our President and brave troops for finding ISIS leader Al-Baghdadi,” she said in a statement on behalf of her son’s namesake foundation. “I hope this will hinder the resurgence of terror groups and pray that captured ISIS fighters will be brought to trial and held accountabl­e.”

She said she remains concerned about “the dozen Americans held hostage in Syria, including Austin Tice and Majd Kamalmaz. And I ask President Trump to make them, and all American hostages, a priority.”

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