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baghdadiWASHINGTON – Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, the shadowy leader of the Islamic State group who presided over its global jihad and became arguably the world’s most wanted man, is believed dead after being targeted by a U.S. military raid in Syria.

A U.S. official told The Associated Press late Saturday that al-Baghdadi was targeted in Syria’s northwestern Idlib province. The official said confirmation that the IS chief was killed in an explosion was pending. No other details were available. The official was not authorized to publicly discuss the strike and spoke on the condition of anonymity.

Al-Baghdadi led the extremist organization known as the Islamic State, also known as ISIS.

Al-Baghdadi is the highest-ranking terrorist to be killed or captured since the death of Osama bin Laden in 2011.

News reports said the raid targeted al-Baghdadi, who was located with the assistance of the CIA.

The announcement of Baghdadi’s death came three weeks after Trump abruptly announced the withdrawal of U.S. troops from northern Syria, allowing Turkey to sweep into the area and attack Kuridsh rivals. That decision drew bipartisan criticism that Trump had abandoned a former ally that fought alongside U.S. forces against ISIS.

The renewed fighting in the region also led to the release of an unknown number of ISIS fighters who had been imprisoned by the Kurds. Russian forces also moved into the region as a fragile ceasefire along the Turkey-Syria border took hold.

Both the Kurds and the Turks said they provided assistance to the U.S. raid that targeted al-Baghdadi.

Mazloum Abdi, the commanding general of the Kurdish-led Syrian Democratic Forces, said on the organization’s official Twitter account: “Successful & historical operation due to a joint intelligence work with the United States of America.”

In another tweet, the Turkey Ministry of National Defense said: “Prior to the US Operation in Idlib Province of Syria last night, information exchange and coordination between the military authorities of both countries took place,”

Trump signaled the news Saturday night with an enigmatic tweet saying that “something very big has just happened!”

About 90 minutes later, the White House announced that Trump would make “a major statement” from the White House on Sunday morning.

Officials also said that Defense Secretary Mark Esper would appear on Sunday morning new programs to discuss developments in Syria.

As the leader of a self-proclaimed caliphate, the charismatic and vicious al-Baghdadi urged followers to carry out attacks against the United States and other western countries.

There have been many previous reports of al-Baghdadi’s death that did not pan out, and the U.S. put a $25 million bounty on his head.

Al-Baghdadi appeared in an ISIS video in late April, his first public appearance in nearly five years, praising Easter Sunday attacks in Sri Lanka against Catholic churches and high-end hotels that killed more than 250 people, including at least four Americans.

Trump critics took issue with Trump’s television drama-like rollout of the news about al-Baghdadi.

“So Trump has to Trump even the apparent killing of al-Baghdadi,” tweeted Robert E Kelly, professor of political science at Pusan National University in South Korea. “He had to leak on Twitter to create hype & suspense and grab the news cycle. He can never rise to the moment. Maybe the announcement will finally display some gravitas, not gloating, but who really expects that now?”

The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, which monitors events in that country, said the attack was “carried out by a squadron of 8 helicopters escorted by an International Coalition warplane,” and killed “about 10 persons.”

Associated Press

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