Islamic State leader Baghdadi dead, Trump claims

Al-Baghdadi’s body was badly mutilated but was positively identified on the spot by a DNA match, US states

US President Donald Trump announcing the death of ISIS founder and leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi.

US President Donald Trump on Sunday announced that Islamic State founder and leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi killed himself during a daring overnight raid by elite US special operations forces in Syria, describing it as a major victory for his country.

Baghdadi died alongside three of his children by detonating an explosives-laden vest when he fled US forces into a dead-end tunnel during the attack, which took place in the Idlib region in northwest Syria, the Republican president said in a televised address to the nation from the White House. He was positively identified by DNA tests 15 minutes after he died, the president said.

"Last night the United States brought the world's number 1 terrorist leader to justice," Trump said in extended remarks describing the raid.

“He was a sick and depraved man and now he’s gone,” Trump continued, adding that capturing or killing Baghdadi had been the top national security priority for his administration.

As he stressed the importance of taking down al-Baghdadi, Trump also suggested the ISIS leader’s death was even more significant than the 2011 US operation that killed al-Qaida leader Osama bin Laden, who was the mastermind of the 11 September, 2001, attacks.

“This is the biggest there is. This is the worst ever. Osama bin Laden was very big, but Osama bin Laden became big with the World Trade Center,” Trump said. “This is a man who built a whole, as he would like to call it, a country … and was trying to do it again.”

The death of Baghdadi undoubtedly represents a severe blow to Islamic State, which has been in disarray and has no declared successor as leader yet. Nevertheless, leader's death is an important win for Trump weeks after his sudden decision to withdraw US troops from Syria sparked a wave of harsh criticism, including from fellow Republicans, that the move would lead to a resurgence of Islamic State, which is also known as ISIS. The announcement will also help the Republican president project strength as he fights a widening impeachment inquiry launched by Democrats last month.

In response to the US' statement, Turkey said it was proud to have helped “bring a notorious terrorist to justice” and Israel’s Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu congratulated Trump on an “impressive achievement”. But Russia’s response was muted, with the defense ministry in Moscow saying merely that it had no reliable information on the US raid.

In the meantime, French President Emmanuel Macron has gone on Twitter to warn that the death of Islamic State group founder and leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi is a knock for the extremist organisation, but not its end. Macron said Sunday the US raid that killed the leader who sought to establish a new Islamic "caliphate" across Syria and Iraq was a "blow against Daesh," using the French term for the group. But he noted "it's only a step" and "the fight continues with our partners in the international coalition so that the terrorist organisation is definitely defeated."

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