President Trump announced on Sunday that a commando raid in Syria this weekend had targeted and resulted in the death of abu bakr Al Baghdadi,the founder and leader of Islamic state, claiming a significant victory even as American forces are pulling out of the area.
“Last night, the United States brought the world’s number one terrorist to justice,” Trump said in an unusual nationally televised address from the White House. “Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi is dead.”
Trump said al-Baghdadi died when he was caught at the end of a tunnel, “whimpering and crying and screaming all the way” as he was chased by American military dogs. Accompanied by three children, al-Baghdadi then detonated a suicide vest, blowing himself and the children up, Trump said
“His body was mutilated by the blast,” Trump said, but he added that tests had confirmed his identity.
The raid took place on Saturday in Idlib Province, hundreds of miles from the area along the Syrian-Iraqi border where al-Baghdadi had been believed to be hiding, according to senior officials. The target of the raid was killed when he detonated a suicide vest he was wearing, officials said.
Al-Baghdadi has been the focus of an intense international manhunt since 2014 when the terrorist network he led stormed onto the scene in the Middle East, seizing huge swaths of Iraq and Syria with the intention of creating a caliphate for Islamic extremists. He was believed to hew to extreme security measures, even when meeting with his most-trusted associates.
Al-Baghdadi’s death would be another important victory in the campaign against the Islamic State, but counterterrorism experts warned that the organization could still be a potent threat. Moreover, al-Baghdadi was no Osama bin Laden in the American psyche and hardly a household name in the United States, which may limit the psychological and political impact at home.
“The danger here is that President Trump decides once again to shift focus away from ISIS now that its leader is dead,” said Jennifer Cafarella, research director for the Institute for the Study of War in Washington. “Unfortunately, killing leaders does not defeat terrorist organizations. We should have learned that lesson after killing Osama bin Laden, after which al-Qaida continued to expand globally.”
Counterterrorism experts expressed surprise that al-Baghdadi was hiding in Idlib Province, an area dominated by al-Qaida groups that is hundreds of miles from his strongholds along the Syria-Iraq border.
However, the Islamic State has extensively penetrated Idlib Province since the fall of Raqqa, its stronghold in northeastern Syria, in late 2017. The American operation on Saturday took place in a smuggling area near the Turkish border where numerous ISIS foreign fighters have likely traversed, Cafarella said.
“It could be that he believed the chaos of Idlib would provide him with the cover he needed to blend in among hordes of jihadists and other rebels,” said Colin P. Clarke, a senior fellow at the Soufan Center, a research organization for global security issues.
But there is also a more ominous possibility of why al-Baghdadi was in Idlib. “Baghdadi’s presence in al-Qaida-dominated areas could signal many things,” Cafarella said. “Most dangerous among them is resumed negotiations between him and al-Qaida leaders for reunification and/or a collaboration with al-Qaida elements on attacks against the West.”
Tags : ISIS; Trump; Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi