Photo Credit: YouTube screenshot
Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi

According to a senior Pentagon official who spoke to Newsweek, Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, leader of the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS) was killed by the US Joint Special Operations Command’s Delta Team in the group’s last bastion of resistance in northwest Syria on Saturday. The CIA assisted in locating the ISIS leader.

He said there was a brief firefight when American forces entered the compound, at which point Baghdadi detonated his suicide vest, killing himself and two of his wives.

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A US Army official told Newsweek that Baghdadi was killed in the raid, and that the Dept. of Defense assured the White House they have “high confidence” the killed man was, indeed, Baghdadi, pending DNA and biometric testing.

Abū Bakr al-Baghdadi, 48, born Ibrahim Awad Ibrahim Ali al-Badri al-Samarrai, was the leader of ISIS and considered a Specially Designated Global Terrorist by the United States. In June 2014, he was chosen by the group’s Shura council as their caliph. In 2016, the State Dept. offered a $25 million award for information leading to his capture or death.

After the operation had concluded Saturday night, President Trump tweeted: “Something very big has just happened!” Trump is scheduled to make a “major statement” Sunday at 9:00 AM EDT in the White House’s Diplomatic Reception Room.

ISIS originated as Jama’at al-Tawhid wal-Jihad in 1999, and pledged allegiance to al-Qaeda, participating in the Iraqi insurgency following the 2003 US invasion of Iraq. In June 2014, the group proclaimed itself a worldwide caliphate, claiming religious, political, and military authority over all Muslims worldwide. In Syria, the group conducted ground attacks on both government forces and opposition factions, and by December 2015, it held a large area extending from western Iraq to eastern Syria, with up to 12 million people, under a severe interpretation of sharia law.

ISIS is still believed to be operational in 18 countries across the world, including Afghanistan, Pakistan, Mali, Egypt, Somalia, Bangladesh, Indonesia, and the Philippines. In 2015, ISIS was estimated to have an annual budget of more than $1 billion and a force of more than 30,000 fighters.

In mid-2014, an international coalition led by the United States intervened with a devastating airstrike campaign against ISIS in Syria and Iraq, in addition to providing advisors, weapons, training, and supplies to ISIS’ enemies in the Iraqi Security Forces and Syrian Democratic Forces. This was followed by a Russian intervention in Syria, in which ISIS lost thousands of fighters. By July 2017, the group had lost control of its largest captured city, Mosul, to the Iraqi army, followed by the loss of its capital, Raqqa, to the Syrian Democratic Forces.

In December 2017, the US military reported that ISIS had retained only 2% of its territory, three years after the group had captured about a third of Iraq. By March 2019, ISIS had lost its last significant territory in the Middle East in the Deir ez-Zor campaign, and surrendered its tent city to the Syrian Democratic Forces at the end of the Battle of Baghuz Fawqani.

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