The US Army has killed a “high-valued target” believed to be Daesh leader Abu Bakr Al-Baghdadi, Newsweek and Fox News reported on Sunday, citing a top US official.
Newsweek said the operation took place in Syria’s northwestern Idlib province and was carried out by special operations forces after receiving actionable intelligence. It added there was a brief firefight when US forces entered a compound in Idlib’s Barisha village and that Baghdadi then killed himself by detonating a suicide vest.
US President Donald Trump was to make a ‘major statement’ at the White House on Sunday morning, the US official said.
Turkey on Sunday said there was ‘coordination’ between Ankara and Washington before the operation which US media reports said targeted and killed Baghdadi.
“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,” the Turkish defense ministry said in a tweet.
Ali Bakr, an expert on Islamist movements, told Al-Arabiya that it was interesting Baghdadi was hiding next to the Turkish border, especially with the history between Turkey and Daesh.
“I don’t know why Trump chose to kill him now, maybe he was trying to show that US withdrawal does not mean they will stop fighting terrorist organizations, or maybe because US elections are coming up,” he said.
“But it will be attributed to Trump and his administration, that they were able to kill the Daesh leader [although] in reality, Daesh will not be that affected … they can find other leaders who will take the lead.”
Ibrahim Al-Idlibi, a Syrian journalist, told Al-Arabiya the place that US forces raided could not be Baghdadi’s actually hiding place, as it was “too open.”
“He was possibly meeting with other countries’ intelligence experts. We do not know who was he meeting there or who gave the information that he was there,” he said.
The US official did not disclose details of the operation and other US officials contacted by Reuters declined to comment. The Pentagon did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
Iraq was informed by sources in Syria that Daesh 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 toward the Turkish border,” said one of the sources.
On Saturday, US President Donald Trump had tweeted without further explanation, “Something very big has just happened!”
Al-Baghdadi led Daesh 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 Daesh 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.
With a $25 million US 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 group to do all they could to free Daesh detainees and women held in jails and camps.
Iraqi state television also posted another video claimed to be the blast site, which showed rubble and clothes strewn around a huge crater.