The feared terrorist leader, Islamic State (IS) leader Abu Bakr Al-Baghdadi, died like a coward, “whimpering and crying” when cornered in a dead-end tunnel by US Special Forces in Syria, and will “never again harm an innocent man, woman or child”, President Donald Trump announced on Sunday.
His death on Saturday in a US Special Forces operation in the Idlib area of Syria is a setback to the IS for whom he was an inspirational leader, extending its tentacles even into India. As recently as two months ago, he had released an audio urging attacks worldwide by his supporters.
Trump said that the image of him dying like a dog “whimpering and crying” would be an antidote to the propaganda of him being a hero used for recruitment.
The Special Forces flew in on Saturday night to Al-Baghdadi’s compound and blasted their way through killing his terrorists and he ran into the tunnel with his three children pursued by the soldiers and a dog, Trump said in a special address from the White House in Washington.
When he found there was no escape, the terrorist leader set off his suicide vest, killing himself and his three children collapsing the tunnel, Trump said.
The only casualty on the US side was a “beautiful, talented dog” that was injured in the blast when it chased him into the tunnel, he added.
As the calipate he set up in Syria collapsed in March under attacks from Kurdish fighters backed by the US and by others, Al-Baghdadi was on the run.
The self-styled Caliph, who was in his late 40s and carried a bounty of at least $25 million, presided over the brutal caliphate he set up in Syria and Iraq enforcing a fundamentalist code and killing thousands.
The IS broadcast propaganda videos of victims, including Americans, being beheaded by Al-Baghdadi’s men in a threatening message to the world.
India’s National Investigation Agency (NIA) has said it had arrested 127 IS sympathisers from across India since 2014 during probes into 28 cases, IANS reported on Sunday.
NIA investigations have revealed that the Internet was being systematically exploited by IS sympathisers for terrorism and that the international organisation has used the tool in a very organised way for its every terror-related activity like radicalisation, training, recruitment, planning and execution.
Commenting on the operation, US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said the operation showed the US “determination to continue working with our partners in the Global Coalition to pursue” IS “wherever they may be, and ensuring its enduring defeat.”
The US operation was watched live by Trump, Vice President Mike Pence and top defence and officials in the White House situation room.
Trump said it was like watching a movie.
He said that al-Baghdadi “was vicious and violent, and he died in a vicious and violent way, as a coward, running and crying. This raid was impeccable, and could only have taken place with the acknowledgement and help of certain other nations and people.”
He said that Russia, Syria, Iraq and Turkey cooperated with the US in the operation without being told what its goal was. The Kurds provided important intelligence, he added.
Some Democratic Party leaders like former Vice President Joe Biden praised the operation, which Trump had described as a “great day for America.”
But Biden avoided mentioning Trump while giving credit to the US military and intelligence.
This was the second time that Al-Baghdadi had come into contact with the US troops.
He was captured by US forces in Iraq in 2004 following the invasion of the country under then President George W Bush in Iraq but was released.
Trump ordered the pullout of US troops earlier this month laying the Kurds, who had worked with the US to destroy the IS caliphate, open to attacks by Turkey, which moved into the area in northern Syria.
However, he said that he was keeping a small contingent in Syria to guard oil fields.
A critic of Trump’s order to withdraw troops from Syria, Republican Senator Lindsey Graham, said that Trump had always wanted to go after Al-Baghdadi and his death was a “game-changer” in the fight against IS and terrorism.
Trump took a dig at US intelligence operatives who have been involved in investigating his presidential campaign and in setting off the impeachment hearings over his alleged attempt to involve Ukraine in investigating former Vice President Joe Biden and his son.
He said that when the intelligence focused on fighting terrorism instead of other things, they brought results.
He also took a shot at Speaker Nancy Pelosi, saying that he did not tell her in advance about the raid because he did not want leaks that would lead to deaths of US forces.
Pelosi reacted by demanding that the House of Representatives should be briefed on the raid about which “the Russians but not top Congressional leadership were notified of in advance”.
Trump had said that the Russians were not told that the operation targeted Al-Baghdadi when seeking cooperation for overflights.
According to Trump, eight helicopters flew low over Syrian and Russian-held territories to the IS hideout. The only gunfire they encountered were from “gangs,” he said.
Eleven children in the IS compound were safe, while two women, who were believed to be Al-Baghdadi’s wives were among those killed.
Trump said that Al-Baghdadi’s body was excavated from the collapsed tunnel and the body’s DNA was tested to confirm the identity.
Another important leader of Islamic terrorists, Osama bin Laden’s son Hamza was killed in a US operation in the Afghanistan-Pakistan border area by Trump’s administration operation.
Under then President Barack Obama, the US launched a Special Forces operation into Abbotabad in Pakistan to take out Osama bin Laden in 2011. In that operation, a helicopter was lost in an accident.
In the Al-Baghdadi operation, all the eight helicopters returned safe.