President Trump on Sunday announced the bloody takedown of ISIS leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdad during a U.S. military operation in Syria that cornered the terror lord in an underground tunnel, where he detonated a suicide vest that killed him and three children.
“Last night, the United States brought the world’s No. 1 terrorist leader to justice,” Trump said from the Diplomatic Room at the White House just before 9:30 a.m. “Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi is dead.”
Trump said Baghdadi was chased into a “dead-end tunnel” by dogs, including one who was injured. He was “whimpering and screaming and crying all the way,” claimed Trump, who watched the operation live in the White House Situation Room Saturday night with several senior officials and military leaders.
At least 50 soldiers reportedly led by members of the army’s elite Delta Force landed from helicopters and blew holes into the side of the compound to avoid known booby traps, in a raid the president marveled was “as though you were watching a movie."
Baghdadi’s body was mutilated by the blast and subsequent tunnel cave-in, but he was positively confirmed by DNA as the target of the raid.
“He spent his last moments in utter fear, in total panic and dread, terrified of the American forces bearing down on him,” Trump said.
“Baghdadi’s demise demonstrates America’s relentless pursuit of terrorist leaders and our enduring commitment” to the defeat of ISIS," Trump said. “These savage monsters will not escape their fate and they will not escape the final judgement of God."
No U.S. service members were killed in the raid, which was reminiscent of when Navy SEALs in 2011 took out Al-Qaeda chief Osama bin Laden in Pakistan during the Obama administration.
The initial tip that helped track down al-Baghdadi in a village in northwestern Syria controlled by rival Qaeda groups came from one of his wives and a courier arrested and questioned over the summer, the New York Times reported, citing two unnamed American officials.
Armed with that tip, the CIA worked with Iraqi and Kurdish intelligence officials in Iraq and Syria to pinpoint his precise hideout, the Times reported.
Trump kept House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) and other congressional leaders in the dark about the Saturday night operation.
The president, the subject of an impeachment inquiry by Democrat-led House committees into the White House withholding military aid to Ukraine, appeared to suggest they couldn’t be trusted.
“Washington leaks like I’ve never seen before,” Trump said at the White House. “There’s no country in the world that leaks like we do. And Washington is a leaking machine. And I told my people, we will not notify them until our great people are out — not just in, but out. I don’t want to have them greeted with firepower like you wouldn’t believe.”
Trump declined to reveal his full contact list, but said he was in touch with at least Intelligence Committee Chairman Richard Burr (N.C.) and Judiciary Chairman Lindsey Graham (S.C.), both Republican senators, before he spoke Sunday morning.
Rep. Adam Schiff (D-Calif.), the chair of the House Intelligence Committee, lamented the break in past protocol of alerting the House speaker and minority leader, the Senate majority and minority leaders, and the chairmen and ranking members of the House and Senate intelligence committees.
“In terms of notifying the Gang of 8, that wasn’t done,” Schiff said.
In a question period after the speech, Trump also conceded he intends to secure Syrian oil fields.
“The oil is so valuable for many reasons,” he said. “It fueled ISIS, number one. Number two, it helps the Kurds, because it’s basically been taken away from the Kurds. And number three, it can help us. We should be able to keep some also.”
The U.S. “may have to fight for the oil,” he added. “It’s OK.” Anyone trying to take the oil will have a “helluva fight” on their hands, he vowed.
Baghdadi, who took command of ISIS in 2010 and has been in hiding for five years, hasn’t been seen publicly since July 2014 when he spoke in Mosul. Multiple reports alleged that Baghdadi had been injured during various strikes over
the years, but most were unconfirmed.
Diane Foley, the mother of James Foley, a 40-year-old journalist in Syria who was kidnapped and beheaded by ISIS militants in 2014 as the first American killed by the terrorist organization, said she was “grateful” to the president and “brave troops.”
“I hope this will hinder the resurgence of terror groups & pray that captured ISIS fighters will be brought to trial & held accountable," she said in a statement to CBS.
Mazloum Abdi, the commander in chief of the Kurdish-led Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) in Syria, called it a joint operation.
“Successful & historical operation due to joint intelligence work with the United States of America,” he tweeted Sunday morning.
Trump said Baghdadi had been under surveillance for “a couple weeks” before Saturday’s raid. Several plans were scrapped before the final assault on the compound.
“He died like a dog. He died like a coward," he said. "The world is now a much safer place.”
During the raid, U.S. special forces were also able to retrieve documents and other information from Baghdadi’s compound that Trump said will help determine future ISIS plans.
“Today’s events are another reminder that we will continue to pursue the remaining ISIS terrorists until their brutal end,” he said. "Baghdadi and the losers that work for him, and losers they are, had no idea what they were getting into.”