Isis leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi has been killed after US special forces chased him “crying and screaming” into a dead-end tunnel where he ignited an explosives vest, killing himself and three children.
“He was a sick and depraved man, and now he’s gone,” Mr Trump said. “He died like a dog, he died like a coward.”
The tunnel caved in after the vest was detonated, and Baghdadi’s ”mutilated” body was retrieved and tested, providing “certain, immediate and totally positive” identification that it was the terrorist the US has hunted for so long.
The jihadist leader, who became emir of the Islamic State of Iraq group in 2010, took it from underground insurgency to a proto-state that ruled over around 10 million people. The once mighty caliphate has all but crumbled, and thousands of his fighters have been killed or languish in jail cells.
Since the collapse of the caliphate earlier this year, Western intelligence agencies had speculated that Baghdadi had gone into hiding somewhere in the desert regions of Iraq or Syria. Despite being the most wanted terrorist in the world, he still managed to release occasional audio and video messages to Isis supporters.
Mr Trump watched the operation live with some of his closest advisors, and marvelled to reporters about the quality of the video feed, saying it was “like a movie”.
The president said that Baghdadi’s heavily armed lair had been scoped out for two weeks.
Special forces spent around two hours in total in the compound, and scoured the area gathering ”highly sensitive” information after Baghdadi had been killed.
Baghdadi’s death is likely to deal a significant blow to the terror group.
Baghdadi has been rumoured to have been killed a number of times. In 2017, Russia said it was investigating whether one of its airstrikes on the city of Raqqa killed him and 300 other fighters. Other reports suggested he had been incapacitated by a US-led coalition strike.
This time, though, the reports appear to be more concrete. Witnesses and videos posted online give an account of gunfire and helicopters near the town of Barisha, just 5 miles from the Turkish border, around midnight.
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, in the Barisha area north of Idlib city, after midnight on Saturday, adding that Isis operatives were believed to be hiding in the area.
It said the helicopters targeted IS positions with heavy strikes for about 120 minutes, during which jihadists fired at the aircraft with heavy weapons. The Britain-based Observatory, which operates through a network of activists on the ground, documented the death of 9 people as a result of the coalition helicopter attack.
In the hours after the raid, there were conflicting reports about who and what information paved the way for the operation.
Iraq’s intelligence service said it had provided the US-led anti-Isis coalition with the exact coordinates of Baghdadi’s location, paving the way for the raid that reportedly killed him.
The agency learned of Baghdadi’s location from documents found at a secret location in Iraq’s western desert after arresting an Iraqi man and woman from within his “inner circle”, an Iraqi intelligence official told Reuters.
“We have been constantly coordinating with the CIA, providing valuable information that the Iraqi National Intelligence Service has on Baghdadi’s movements and place of hiding,” the official said.
A senior Turkish official, in a statement to journalists, said Baghdadi had arrived in the location 48 hours before the raid took place.
“The Turkish military did have advance knowledge of last night’s raid. We will continue to coordinate our actions on the ground,” they said.
Baghdadi’s alleged death comes at a time when many feared Isis was on the verge of a resurgence. A military operation by Turkey against Kurdish forces in the northeast has caused mass displacement and chaos, and led to a reduction in anti-Isis operations.
The group will now undergo a hunt to replace one of the world’s most deadly jihadists leaders. Baghdadi was not just the Islamic State’s military chief, but a self-proclaimed spiritual and religious leader. He was key to the group’s brutality and its propaganda appeal, which brought followers from all around the world.
Born in the Iraqi city of Samarra in 1971 and radicalised by the US invasion of Iraq in 2003, he claimed to have descended from the Prophet Muhammad. His background in religious instruction gave him legitimacy in the eyes of his jihadist followers