IS Leader Targeted by US Forces Believed Dead; Trump Plans Statement


Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, the shadowy leader of the Islamic State group who presided over its global jihad and became arguably the world’s most wanted man, is believed dead after being targeted by a U.S. military raid in Syria.

A U.S. official told The Associated Press late Saturday that al-Baghdadi was targeted in Syria’s Idlib province. The official said confirmation that the IS chief was killed in an explosion is pending. No other details were available.

Both Iraq and Iran told Reuters Sunday that they had been informed by sources in Syria that al-Baghdadi had been killed.

“Our sources from inside Syria have confirmed to the Iraqi intelligence team tasked with pursuing Baghdadi that he has been killed alongside his personal bodyguard in Idlib after his hiding place was discovered when he tried to get his family out of Idlib towards the Turkish border,” said one of the Iraqi security sources.

Reports #ISIS leader Abu Bakr al #Baghdadi may have been killed in #Idlib#Syria shouldn’t come as a complete surprise-at least the location

In July, a @UN report warned senior ISIS leaders “are among those who have made their way to the #Idlib area…”https://t.co/4ixEKW0xT2pic.twitter.com/xEFrnTjy8h

— Jeff Seldin (@jseldin) October 27, 2019

President Donald Trump teased a major announcement, tweeting Saturday night that “Something very big has just happened!” A White House spokesman, Hogan Gidley, would say only that the president would be making a “major statement” at 9 a.m. EDT Sunday.

From @ABC: https://t.co/RaE2cRAPov#ISIS

— Steve Herman (@W7VOA) October 27, 2019

The strike came amid concerns that a recent American pullback from northeastern Syria could infuse new strength into the militant group, which had lost vast stretches of territory it had once controlled.

U.S. officials feared IS would seek to capitalize on the upheaval in Syria. But they also saw a potential opportunity: that Islamic State leaders might break from more secretive routines to communicate with operatives, potentially creating a chance for the United States and its allies to detect them.

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 (al-Qaida affiliated group, Guardians of the Jihad) and where IS operatives are believed to be hiding in the Barisha area north of Idlib city, after midnight Saturday.

It said the helicopters targeted IS positions with heavy strikes for about 120 minutes, during which jihadists targeted the helicopters with heavy weapons. The Syrian Observatory documented the death of 9 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 presence of a large number of wounded.

Rise and fall of caliphate

Al-Baghdadi 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. He had long been thought to be hiding somewhere along the Iraq-Syria border.

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.

$25 million bounty

With a $25 million U.S. bounty on his head, al-Baghdadi had 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.

#ISIS supporters urging patience as unconfirmed reports come in that Abu Bakr al Baghdadi may have died in a US-led raid in #Syriahttps://t.co/hjJmysXpG2

— Jeff Seldin (@jseldin) October 27, 2019

Per @JihadoScope, #ISIS supporters on social media warning other followers to be wary of Western news reports…but that if the reports are true, #Baghdadi fulfilled his duty for martyrdomhttps://t.co/FDXoU9nOl5

— Jeff Seldin (@jseldin) October 27, 2019

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.”

Reuters contributed to this report.

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