Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, leader of the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL), also known as the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS), the group that has swiftly and brutally seized control of large portions of war-torn Syria and a huge swath or northern Iraq, might be dead.
Newsweek reported on Saturday night that the U.S. military conducted a special operations raid targeting ISIS, a mission for which President Donald Trump approved a week prior. There were reports of military helicopters flying over Syria’s northwestern Idlib province, and a senior Pentagon official told Newsweek that the target of this top-secret operation was Baghdadi.
A U.S. Army official also told the news outlet that Baghdadi, 48. was killed in the raid, and that the Defense Department told the White House they have “high confidence” that the target killed was Baghdadi, but was waiting for further verification. Baghdadi has been in hiding for the last five years. Baghdadi is believed to be responsible for the deaths of thousands of civilians in the Middle East, along with the murder of numerous civilian hostages from Japan, the United Kingdom, and the United States.
A senior US defense official told CNN that Baghdadi detonated a suicide vest during the raid conducted by the U.S. military. Final confirmation won’t come until after DNA and biometric testing is conducted.
Baghdadi, who is also known as Dr. Ibrahim ‘Awwad Ibrahim ‘Ali and Abu Du’a, has previously been believed to be killed before, but reports turned out to be false. Baghdadi became the head of al Qaeda’s Islamic State of Iraq after Abu Omar al Baghdadi, his predecessor and the groups’ founder, was killed by Iraqi and US troops in April 2010.
At 9:30 p.m. on Saturday night, Trump tweeted a cryptic message on Saturday night saying, “Something very big has just happened!” The White House then announced that Trump would be making a “major statement” on Sunday morning at 9 a.m. ET. The announcement is reportedly set to take place in the Diplomatic Reception Room.
Abu Bakr Al-Baghdadi Is One of the Most Wanted Men In the World
In 2011, the Department of State list Baghdad’s bounty at $10 million, but it was raised in 2016 to $25 million. Born near Samarra, Iraq, his real name is Ibrahim Awad al-Badri.
It’s believed that Baghdadi might’ve been radicalized while detained in an American prison camp. As reported by NBC, he was believed to be a small commander of anti-American forces in Fallujah during the early 2000s until he was captured and brought to the U.S. detention facility at Camp Bucca in 2005.
Baghdadi stayed at Camp Bucca until 2009, always behaving and proving himself a non-threat to the U.S. mission in Iraq. “He didn’t rack up to be one of the worst of the worst,” said Colonel Ken King, who oversaw Camp Bucca during Baghdadi’s final two years. He even described him as “savvy.”
“But it wasn’t menacing,” King added. “It was like, ‘I’ll be out of custody in no time.'” After his release, Baghdadi quickly rose through the ranks of the Islamic State of Iraq, and eventually became the successor to Abu Musab al-Zarqawi’s al Qaeda in Iraq.
As for why he’s been able to allude capture for so long, Michael Stephens, a Middle East expert with the London-based think-tank Royal United Services Institute told BBC News, “He learned a lot on how to operate from Saddam’s former intelligence officials. His operational security is excellent partly because of his excessive paranoia. He’ll be able to take advantage of established smuggling networks across that border, using money to pay his way amongst the tribes there.”
Baghdadi Surfaced In a Video In April 2019, Marking the First Time He’s Been Seen In Public Since 2014
Not only one of the most wanted terrorist in the world, Baghdadi was also the most reclusive. However, Al Furqan, an Islamic State media group, released a video in featuring a man who said to be Baghdadi in April, which marked only the second time he’s appeared in public since transforming an Al Qaeda franchise in Iraq into the Islamic State in Iraq. The video’s release came two months after Trump’s claim in February that the Islamic state was “one hundred percent” eliminated as a threat.
The video featured Baghdadi, with an AK-47 perched next to him, telling a group of followers, “The war of Islam and its followers against the crusaders and their followers is a long one. Our battle today is a war of attrition to harm the enemy, and they should know that jihad will continue until doomsday.”