ISIS leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi is believed to have been killed in a raid conducted by the US military in northwest Syria on Saturday, according to a senior US defense official and a source with knowledge.
The US magazine Newsweek, which was first to report on the news, said Mr Baghdadi was the target of a commando operation in Idlib province, which borders Turkey in north-west Syria.
It cited a US army official saying that Mr Baghdadi was killed in the raid, and that the defence department had told the White House it had “high confidence” of the target’s identity though further verification was pending through DNA and biometric testing. There have been several erroneous reports of the killing of Mr Baghdadi in the past.
Russia said in 2017 that it may have killed him in an airstrike but he subsequently resurfaced in video footage. If confirmed, the killing of the militant leader comes at an opportune moment for US president Donald Trump, who has faced bipartisan criticism over his decision earlier this month to withdraw US forces from Syria.
Opponents of the pullout say it betrays the Syrian Kurds who have been US allies in the fight against Isis and that it could allow the jihadi group to surge back after its defeat and expulsion from most of the territory it held in Syria and Iraq.
On Sunday morning, the commander of the Kurdish-led Syrian Democratic Forces posted a tweet about a “successful and historical operation due to a joint intelligence work with the United States of America”.
Turkey’s defence minister said in a tweet that “information exchange and coordination between the military authorities of both countries took place” before to the US operation in Idlib.
“The Turkish military did have advance knowledge of last night’s raid. We will continue to co-ordinate our actions on the ground,” said a senior Turkish official, without elaborating on the nature of the co-ordination, citing rules on commenting on intelligence-sharing.
A Pentagon source briefed on the commando operation told Newsweek that Mr Baghdadi detonated a suicide vest when US special forces entered his compound in Barisha village in Idlib.
He said there was a firefight and two of Mr Baghdadi’s wives were also killed after they too blew themselves up.
Reuters news agency said officials in Iran had confirmed from its own sources in Syria that Mr Baghdadi was killed. – FT.com