President Donald Trump has said that ISIS leader Abu Bakr al Baghdadi has been killed in a U.S. military operation in northwest Syria.
Speaking from the White House, Trump said Al Baghdadi detonated his suicide vest during a raid by special forces late on Saturday.
Baghdadi came to prominence in 2014, when he announced the creation of a “caliphate” in areas of Iraq and Syria.
In a Sunday morning statement, Mr Trump said U.S. special forces executed a “daring night-time raid” and accomplished their mission in grand style.
“He died after running into a dead-end tunnel, whimpering, crying and screaming all the way, Mr Trump said. “The thug who tried so hard to intimidate others spent his last moments in utter fear, in total panic and dread, terrified of the American forces bearing down on him.”
No U.S. soldiers had been killed but a number of Baghdadi’s followers and children also died, Mr Trump said, adding that “highly sensitive material and information” had been gathered.
Baghdadi, whose real name was Ibrahim Awwad Ibrahim al-Badri, was born near Samarra, north of Baghdad, in 1971, and reports suggest he was a cleric in a mosque in the city around the time of the U.S.-led invasion in 2003.
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Some believe he was already a jihadist during the rule of former Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein. Others suggest he was radicalised during the time he was held at Camp Bucca, a U.S. facility in southern Iraq where many al-Qaeda commanders were detained.
Baghdadi emerged in 2010 as the leader of an umbrella group that included al-Qaeda in Iraq, and rose to prominence when ISIS fighters captured the Iraqi city of Mosul in 2014, when he declared the creation of a “caliphate”.
That was the only time Baghdadi was seen in public. He reappeared in a video released by ISIS earlier this year.
In October 2011, the U.S. officially designated him a “terrorist” and offered a reward of $10m (£5.8m at the time) for information leading to his capture or death. This was increased to $25m in 2017.