ISIS leader al-Baghdadi killed in U.S. Special Ops raid

The elusive Islamic State leader has led the group since 2010, when it was still an underground al Qaeda offshoot in Iraq.

A MAN purported to be Islamic State leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi speaks in this screen grab taken from video released on April 29. (photo credit: REUTERS)
A MAN purported to be Islamic State leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi speaks in this screen grab taken from video released on April 29.
(photo credit: REUTERS)
The United States military conducted an operation against elusive Islamic State leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi on Saturday, a US official said, as President Donald Trump prepared to make a "major statement" at the White House on Sunday morning.
After previous reports remained vague, a senior Pentagon official and an Army official both confirmed to Newsweek that the operation was successful, and that the man killed was indeed Baghdadi. Official confirmation is currently pending DNA testing.  
According to Newsweek's report, following a brief firefight while US forces were advancing to Baghdadi's compound, he committed suicide by activating an explosive vest. Two of his wives were killed as well when they detonated their explosive vests.
The operation was carried out by US Joint Special Operations Command's Delta Team, according to the report.
Iraq said on Sunday that its National Intelligence Service found Islamic State leader Baghdadi's location and provided it to the US.
"After constant monitoring and the formation of a specialized task force over an entire year, the Iraqi National Intelligence Service acting on accurate information was able to locate the den in which the head of Daesh terrorists Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi and those with him were hiding in the Syrian province of Idlib," the Iraqi military said in a statement.
Iran was informed by sources in Syria that al-Baghdadi had been killed, two Iranian officials told Reuters on Sunday.
"Iran was informed about Baghdadi's death by Syrian officials, who got it from the field," one of the officials said. The second Iranian official confirmed it.
The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights confirmed that nine people died in the US offensive on Baghdadi's compound, while Iraq was informed by sources in Syria that Islamic State leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi has been killed, two Iraqi security sources told Reuters on Sunday.
"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 sources.
Iraqi state TV claimed on Sunday that Iraqi intelligence had assisted in pointing out the exact location of al-Baghdadi.
White House spokesman Hogan Gidley announced late on Saturday that Trump would make a "major statement" at 9 a.m. EST (1300 GMT) on Sunday. He gave no further details as to the topic of Trump's statement.
The president gave an indication that something was afoot earlier on Saturday night when he tweeted without explanation, "Something very big has just happened!"
Trump has been frustrated by the US news media's heavy focus on the Democratic-led impeachment inquiry, which he calls an illegitimate witch hunt.
He has also faced withering criticism from both Republicans and Democrats alike for his US troop withdrawal from northeastern Syria, which permitted Turkey to attack America's Kurdish allies.
Many critics of Trump's Syria pullout have expressed worries that it would lead the Islamic State militancy to regain strength and pose a threat to US interests. An announcement about Baghdadi's death could help blunt those concerns.
Trump was expected to make the statement in the White House Diplomatic Reception Room, which he has used to make a number of major announcements.
Just last week, he used the same room to announce that a ceasefire between Turkey and the Kurds had taken hold.
For days, US officials had feared that Islamic State would seek to capitalize on the upheaval in Syria. But they also saw a potential opportunity, in which 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.
Baghdadi was long thought to be hiding somewhere along the Iraq-Syria border. He has led the group since 2010, when it was still an underground al-Qaeda offshoot in Iraq.
On September 16, Islamic State's media network issued a 30-minute audio message purporting to come from Baghdadi, in which he said operations were taking place daily and called on supporters to free women jailed in camps in Iraq and Syria over their alleged links to his group.
In the audio message, Baghdadi also said that the United States and its proxies had been defeated in Iraq and Afghanistan, and that it had been "dragged" into Mali and Niger.
At the height of its power, Islamic State ruled over millions of people, in territory running from northern Syria through towns and villages along the Tigris and Euphrates valleys to the outskirts of the Iraqi capital Baghdad.
But the fall in 2017 of Mosul and Raqqa, its strongholds in Iraq and Syria respectively, stripped Baghdadi, an Iraqi, of the trappings of a caliph and turned him into a fugitive thought to be moving along the desert border between Iraq and Syria.
US air strikes killed most of his top lieutenants, and before Islamic State published a video message of Baghdadi in April, there had been conflicting reports over whether he was alive.
Despite losing its last significant territory, Islamic State is believed to have sleeper cells around the world, and some fighters operate from the shadows in Syria's desert and Iraq's cities.