WASHINGTON – 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.”