On Sunday, 27th October, US President Donald Trump tweeted that ‘something very big has just happened’.
Something very big has just happened!
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) October 27, 2019
The speculations were put to rest when later reports emerged that ISIS head Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi had killed himself by detonating a suicide vest during a raid by the US. Reuters reports that around February 2018 one of Baghdadi’s top aides gave information to US intelligence agencies on how one of the most dreaded terrorists evaded arrests all these years. Turns out, to avoid detection, Baghdadi would hold strategic meetings in moving minibus packed with vegetables. Ismael al-Ethawi, a close aide of Baghdadi who fled Syria with his wife in 2017, gave information to Turkish authorities.
US President Donald Trump addressing the nation from the White House said that Baghdadi died ‘whimpering and crying’ along with his three children he had taken along inside the tunnel where he detonated his suicide vest.
#WATCH US President Donald Trump says,”He (Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi) died after running into a tunnel whimpering & crying & screaming all the way…The only ones remaining were Baghdadi in the tunnel and he had dragged three of his young children with him.” pic.twitter.com/QYSvTzdkFE
— ANI (@ANI) October 27, 2019
Reuters reports that militants like Ethawi turning informants was crucial for the agencies to track Baghdadi. Ethawi holds a PhD in Islamic studies and had joined Al Qaeda in 2006. He was arrested by the US forces in 2008 and spent four years in prison. Upon his release, he joined the ISIS where he carried out instructions of Baghdadi of delivering religious instructions. When the ISIS hold weakened, he fled Syria with his Syrian wife in 2017.
Earlier this year, in a joint intelligence operation by the US, Turkish and Iraqi intelligence agencies, several ISIS leaders were captured. This included four Iraqi and one Syrian leader. These leaders gave location details on where they would meet Baghdadi. The Iraqi officials, along with CIA deployed more sources in the area. Eventually, by mid-2019, the agencies zeroed in on Idlib as the possible location of Baghdadi.
Baghdadi was moving around in Idlib from village to village with his family and close aides. There Ethawi was spotted in a market and was identified by his photograph. The intelligence officers followed him and were able to trace where Baghdadi was living. The information was then passed on to the CIA who used satellite and drones to keep an eye on Baghdadi for past five months.
Two days back, Baghdadi left his home with his family in a minibus to go to a nearby village.
The other enemies
Meanwhile, Baghdadi also had local enemies to deal with. Hayat Tahrir al-Sham, a terrorist group which dominated Idlib and was searching for Baghdadi as well. The two groups had a bloody history of fighting battles against each other during the Syrian war. Hayat Tahrir al-Sham recently captured Abu Suleiman al-Khalidi, one of the three men sitting with Baghdadi in one of the latest propaganda videos.
It is believed that Hayat Tahrir al-Sham passed on the information provided by al-Khalidi to Turkish intelligence agencies which may have helped in locating Baghdadi. Baghdadi was in Idlib since last six months, perhaps trying to blend in and try and hide.
On Saturday night Syria time, the US forces raided the house where Baghdadi was living. The US military personnel and dogs were air-lifted from an unidentified military base in Middle-East reportedly somewhere in Western Iraq. On reaching Baghdadi’s compound, the helicopters were shot at but they managed to land safely. They blasted through the wall and entered the compound.
Those in the compound either surrendered or were killed by the US forces. Several Islamic State fighters were imprisoned and several children were removed and taken elsewhere. Baghdadi then fled inside a tunnel along with his three children where military dogs followed him. When he reached a dead end, he detonated his suicide vest, killing himself and his three children. The US forces carried out DNA test on the ground and confirmed his identity despite his body being mutilated by the blasts.
The US forces then cleared the compound and took with them sensitive material related to the ISIS and its future plans. They were in the compound for about two hours before flying away on the same route as they had come.
According to the US, Baghdadi’s body will be disposed of ‘properly’.