ISIS leader Abu Bakr al Baghdadi was thrown into the sea from an aircraft after being given Islamic religious rites, U.S. officials have told Reuters news agency.
Donald Trump claimed on Sunday that Baghdadi had died by detonating a suicide vest after fleeing into a dead-end tunnel as U.S. special forces closed in on him.
The officials, who spoke on condition of anonymity, did not disclose where the ritual was performed or how long it lasted.
U.S. Army General Mark Milley, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, said on Monday that the U.S. military disposed of Baghdadi’s remains “appropriately, in accordance with our (standard operating procedures) and in accordance with the law of armed conflict.”
Baghdadi’s remains were transported to a secure facility to confirm his identity with forensic DNA testing, Milley said.
If true, this would be the second time that the U.S. has disposed of a high-value target in the sea, after Navy SEALs killed al Qaeda founder Osama bin Laden in a 2011 raid in Pakistan.
In the case of bin Laden, his body was transported to an aircraft carrier in The Gulf. It was washed before being covered in a white sheet, and “religious remarks translated into Arabic” were read over bin Laden’s corpse.
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Baghdadi came to prominence in 2014, when he announced the creation of a “caliphate” in areas of Iraq and Syria.
On Sunday Trump said he had been killed in a U.S. military operation in northwest Syria.
“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.
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.