Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi: Isis leader killed in northern Syria, reports say

Terrorist leader has been in hiding since the fall of the caliphate earlier this year

Richard Hall
Beirut
Sunday 27 October 2019 11:30
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Iraqi state media posts clip of Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi raid in northern Syria

Isis leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi has reportedly been killed by a US military raid in northern Syria.

Officials from several countries said US special forces carried out an attack targeting the terror chief in the northern province of Idlib late on Saturday, but confirmation of his death is still pending.

Several reports suggest Baghdadi detonated a suicide vest during the raid by Delta Force operatives, which lasted for nearly two hours and involved helicopters, warplanes and ground forces.

Speculation over Baghdadi’s fate came as US President Donald Trump teased a major development in a tweet on Saturday night, saying: “Something very big has just happened!” The president is expected to make a statement at 1pm GMT today.

If the reports are confirmed, the death of the Isis leader would strike a major blow to the terror organisation.

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.

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.

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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.

Dozens of Isis prisoners were thought to have escaped from jails held by the Kurdish-led Syrian Democratic Forces in the chaos of the attack.

With agencies

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