The fugitive leader of the Islamic State (IS) group killed himself during a US military operation in north-west Syria, President Donald Trump has said.
Speaking from the White House, Mr Trump said Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi detonated his suicide vest after fleeing into a tunnel, chased by US military dogs.
Baghdadi came to prominence in 2014, when he announced the creation of a “caliphate” in areas of Iraq and Syria.
IS carried out multiple atrocities that resulted in thousands of deaths.
The jihadist group imposed a brutal rule in the areas under its control and was behind many attacks around the world. Although the US declared the “caliphate” defeated earlier this year, IS militants remain active in the region and elsewhere.
Baghdadi’s death is a major victory for Mr Trump as he faces heavy criticism for his decision to pull US troops out of northern Syria and fights an impeachment inquiry launched by Democrats.
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In an unusual Sunday morning statement, Mr Trump described the night-time operation in extraordinary detail, saying Baghdadi ran into a dead-end tunnel, “whimpering and crying and screaming”, while being chased by military dogs.
Baghdadi killed himself and three of his children by igniting his suicide vest, Mr Trump said, causing the tunnel to collapse. No US personnel were killed but one of the dogs was seriously injured in the explosion.
The blast mutilated Baghdadi’s body but, according to the president, an on-site DNA test confirmed his identity. The special forces spent two hours in the area and gathered “highly sensitive material”.
“The thug who tried so hard to intimidate others spent his last moments in utter fear, in total panic and dread, terrified of the American forces bearing down on him,” Mr Trump said.
Also on Sunday, the Kurdish-led Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) said IS spokesman Abu al-Hassan al-Muhajir, described as Baghdadi’s right-hand man, had been killed in a separate joint operation with the US military near the northern Syrian town of Jarablus.
What is known about the Baghdadi operation?
The location – the village of Barisha in Idlib province near the Turkish border – was far from where Baghdadi had been thought to be hiding along the Syria-Iraq border. Many parts of Idlib are under the control of jihadists opposed to IS but rival groups are suspected of sheltering IS members.
Baghdadi had been under surveillance for “a couple of weeks” and “two or three” raids had been cancelled because of his movements, Mr Trump said, describing the IS leader’s move to Idlib as part of a plan to rebuild the group.