It was shortly after midnight in the remote village of Barisha that residents heard a familiar noise coming from above.
The whir of rotor blades in the darkness signalled something was coming, something military – which, in these parts, usually brings death.
Sure enough, within minutes the sound of bullets piercing the air followed.
But this was no usual firefight, with those brandishing automatic weapons on the ground severely outgunned by an enemy they had not been expecting.
For the footsoldiers still loyal to the Islamic State terror group were caught by surprise by the crack American team descending upon their high-profile prize – Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, the world’s most wanted man.
Five years after he had launched his self-styled ‘caliphate’, and brought a new wave of terror to the globe, the net was finally closing on the IS leader.
An aerial view taken on on October 27, 2019 shows the site that was hit by helicopter gunfire which reportedly killed nine people near the northwestern Syrian village of Barisha in the Idlib province along the border with Turkey, where ‘groups linked to the Islamic State (IS) group’
Syrians walk past a damaged van at the site of helicopter gunfire which reportedly killed nine people near the northwestern Syrian village of Barisha
A satellite view of the reported residence of ISIS leader, Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, near the village of Barisha, Syria
For the footsoldiers still loyal to the Islamic State terror group were caught by surprise by the crack American team descending upon their high-profile prize – Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, the world’s most wanted man
The helicopters targeted a home and a car on the outs kirts of Barisha, the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said, after US media said IS leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi was believed to be dead following a US military raid in the same province
The live feed of the assault is understood to have been played to those in the White House ‘as though watching a movie’ according to President Trump
The rubble and destruction caused by the military raid in the northwestern Syrian village of Barisha
Capture or kill
Being played on a live feed to those back in the White House, ‘as though watching a movie’, according to President Donald Trump, the helicopter gunships circled, taking small arms fire but delivering their far more devastating riposte.
Some hovered in the air, laying down a cover of fire underneath which a crack team of elite Delta Force commandos and Rangers could slip to the floor safely, landing outside Baghdadi’s compound on the edge of the village.
Armed with highly-trained dogs and a robot to withstand suicide attacks, the 70 – strong team was ready for a bloodbath.
Capture or kill … either option had been authorized.
After playing a round of golf earlier, Mr Trump had returned to the White House, settling in the Situation Room alongside his top generals and security officials.
Caliphate leader : Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi detonated his own suicide vest during the targeted raid on his lair in Syria’s Idlib province and killed three of his children in the blast. He is shown in a still from a video released in April, having not been seen since he spoke at the Grand Mosque in Mosul in 2014
An aerial view of the site taken today shows the damage the helicopter caused on the site where al- Baghdadi was thought to have lived
Rubble and craters litter the site where the US strikes took place and which reportedly killed nine people
This was the moment they had been planning for since a lucky break in Iraq last month.
Iraqi-Kurdish officials had detained one of Baghdadi’s many wives , a nephew and the wife of one of his trusted couriers.
The information from that trio led them, it is understood, to an IS hideout in the desert of western Iraq, a bolthole that was to prove extremely valuable.
For found inside, among some of the IS leader’s personal possessions, were the coordinates of his secret location, a non-descript house in a part of northw est Syria that was controlled by Al Qaeda, an enemy of Baghdadi.
Even for the organization that murdered more than 3, 000 in 9 / 11, the brutal violence of Islamic State was too much and Baghdadi was seen as unhinged.
With the CIA now on board, the mission to take out Baghdadi had suddenly grown even more dangerous.
Trump looks on
When Mr Trump arrived on Saturday to watch the operation in real-time, it came four days after he had given the green light, with several other opportunities aborted at the last minute.
Moments after he was in place, at around 9pm UK time, the US helicopters lifted off from their air base in Iraq and flew some 500 miles over ‘very very dangerous territory’, a journey that lasted just over an hour.
Donald Trump addressed the nation Sunday morning, confirming that the death of ISIS leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi. He said he had watched and monitored the whole operation Saturday night
The teams had to cross Russian, Syrian and Turkish airspace to reach their objective. With current tensions in the region, they could easily have been mistaken for an invading force.
US commanders notified Moscow, Damascus and Ankara that something ‘big’ that they ‘would like’ was going to happen – but they did not share their ultimate goal.
As the helicopters, a mix of Chinooks and Black Hawks, approached the compound in the war-ravaged Idlib province, near the Turkish border, all hell broke loose.
Meeting in the situation room Saturday night (from left to right): National Security Advisor Robert O’Brien, Vice President Mike Pence, Trump, Secretary of Defense Mark Esper and Joint Chiefs of Staff US Army General Mark Milley and Brig. General Marcus Evans
Troops storm in
Fearing a booby-trapped front door, the elite soldiers made their own opening, blowing holes into the wall of Baghdadi’s den. Two ‘wives’, both wearing suicide vests which thankfully did not detonate, were killed in the ensuing firefight, along with a large number of Baghdadi’s ‘fighters and companions’.
ISIS ‘already has a new leader’ barely a day after former chief Baghdadi ‘died like a dog’ in US strikes as former Saddam Hussein army officer takes terror group’s reins
ISIS ‘already has a new leader’ barely a day after former chief Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi died ‘like a dog’ in US strikes as the former Saddam Hussein army officer takes the terror group’s reins.
Abdullah Qardash – sometimes spelt Karshesh – was said to have been nominated by the now deceased al-Baghdadi to run the group’s ‘Muslim Affairs’, as reported by Newsweek.
Little is known about Qardash, who once served under Saddam Hussein.
Abdullah Qardash, a former officer in Saddam Husein’s military, is reportedly the new leader of ISIS
But he is understood to hav e already taken over a number of duties from al-Baghdadi prior to his demise this week when he detonated a suicide vest.
An official told Newsweek: ‘Baghdadi was a figurehead. He was not involved in operations or day-to-day, ‘the official told
‘ All Baghdadi did was say yes or no — no planning. ‘
As they cleared the building carefully, tracking room by room in the darkness, an Arabic speaker called out, urging Baghdadi to give himself up.
But the terrorist who called for death to the West ran, drawing Delta Force deeper into the compound they had studied from plans – memorizing every corner, every hiding place and every possible escape route.
As the team went further, they helped 11 children get out alive, while a group of Islamic State extremists, realizing their time was up, surrendered. Mr Trump said there ‘more dead than alive’ in the aftermath.
Once the compound had been emptied of others, the US troops and their dogs chased Baghdadi into an underground tunnel, taking three children with him .
The soldiers knew it was a dead end and there was no escape, so proceeded slowly, sending in their highly-trained canines.
It was at that point that Baghdadi’s murderous reign came to an end as he detonated his own suicide vest, killing himself, his terrified young hostages and bringing much of the tunnel down upon them.
Announcing the news yesterday, 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. ‘
Back in the White House, having been informed of the explosion, they held their breath. Back in the tunnel, the US team dug through the rubble.
Not much of Baghdadi was left – but enough for a DNA test using a small field kit.
Within 15 minutes, news crackled through to the Situation Room on the radio: ‘100 per cent confidence Jackpot. Over. ‘
Jackpot is thought to be the codename the US gave to Baghdadi, the same name they had given to Osama Bin Laden during a similar operation in 2011.
The overall Bin Laden operation was given the classified name ‘Operation Neptune Spear’, a reference to the trident in the insignia of SEAL Team Six who went after the terrorist.
This time, the mission for Baghdadi was given a more human touch, named after US human rights worker Kayla Mueller, who was captured by IS and, according to the US, made a personal prisoner of its leader before she was killed.
With Baghdadi confirmed dead, and the opposition outside ‘obliterated’ in the president’s words, Delta Force made their way out but not before ‘exploiting’ the scene, a military term for intelligence gathering on the go.
They grabbed every computer, every phone , every bit of paper they could find in the hope it will bring them closer to track ing those still loyal to IS and putting an end to them once and for all. Two hours after they touched down, the team was back in the air, being whisked to safety, heading out of Syria along the same path they had taken to get in.
The last action was to call in an airstrike by US drones, reducing Baghdadi’s hideout to rubble, wiping it from the face of the Earth and covering their tracks.
When he had word his units were back safe and sound, not a casualty among them, Donald Trump fired up his Twitter to tease the world with a cryptic message: ‘Something very big has just happened!’
He then stayed silent until breaking the news yesterday morning, telling reporters: ‘(Last night, the United States brought the world’s number one terrorist leader to justice.’
Al-Baghdadi, the leader of the so-called Islamic caliphate, blew himself up during the targeted attack on his lair in Syria’s Idlib province in the early hours of Sunday morning. His lair was in a village known for smuggling, and he arrived there 48 hours before the raid
Death of a butcher, but not of his cause: JOHN R. BRADLEY examines the likely impact of the death of ISIS leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi
He may have been the world’s most wanted terrorist and the supremo of global jihad, but Abu Bakr Al-Baghdadi was all but a mythical figure to those hunting him.
Known as ‘The Invisible Sheikh’ – by virtue of the mask he wore to address his commanders – he nurtured the lowest of profiles, eschewing the showmanship of fellow jihadi leaders who paid the price by making themselves vulnerable to tracking by intelligence services.
Indeed, he made only two video appearances during his lifetime – until yesterday , that is, when US Special Forces apparently recorded him blowing himself up in northwestern Syria.
For five years, Al-Baghdadi – a nom de guerre , his real name was Ibrahim Awwad Ibrahim al-Badri – led the most barbaric terrorist outfit the modern world has known.
He came to global attention in 2014 when a YouTube video showed him in the pulpit of the Nouri mosque in Mosul, Iraq’s second largest city, which his IS foot- soldiers had just conquered .
Dressed in a black turban and flowing black gown, he delivered a sermon urging Muslims around the world to swear allegiance to the new caliphate – an Islamic state led by a caliph, a successor to the Prophet Muhammad who has absolute political and religious power – and to flock to protect its newly conquered territory.
Al-Baghdadi’s Iraqi tribe claimed descent from the Prophet, but few had heard of him before he brazenly declared himself ruler of all Muslims.
Born in 1971 to a middle-class family in the Iraqi city of Samarra, Al-Baghdadi always saw his destiny as an important religious lea der. As a youth he was a keen footballer, but known for his piety. His family nickname was ‘the Believer’ because he’d scold those who failed to observe religious practices correctly.
He moved to Baghdad to study, graduating in Koranic studies and then teaching at a mosque. But when the US invaded Iraq in 2003, he joined the violent insurrection. A year later, US forces arrested him in Fallujah, but he was considered a low-level threat and incarcerated for only ten months.
Crucially, however, he spent time in the hellish Abu Ghraib and Camp Bucca – known as the Jihad University – detention facilities where he befriended battle-hardened jihadis.
Following his release, Al-Baghdadi joined the Iraqi branch of Al Qaeda which later became Islamic State of Iraq.
In 2010, he re-emerged as its leader , and his fighters crossed into Syria to take advantage of the chaos caused by the civil war. Islamic State in Iraq thus morphed into Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant – and ISIL (later IS) was born.
By 2015, this ruthless battlefield tactician was ruling over a caliphate spanning parts of Syria and Iraq that was the size of Britain, with almost 8 million people under his control, and an annual budget of more than $ 1billion – generated through the sale of oil from the facilities IS controlled, but also from extortion and kidnapping.
His fanatical militia, who flocked to the caliphate from all over the world, numbered at least 30, 000, although some estimates put their number at the caliphate’s peak as at least double or even treble that.
During its reign of terror, IS carried out unspeakable acts of barbarity in the name of a perverted holy war. Its ultimate, apocalyptic goal was to rid the world of anyone – Muslim and non-Muslim alike – who refused to submit to its extremist interpretation of Islam.
Thousands of innocents were lined up on their knees and ritually slaughtered by having their throats slit. As ‘infidels’, Christians, Yazidis and Shia Muslims were singled out for slaughter, the ghastly spectacle was recorded in sickeningly
professional propaganda videos that shocked the world.
IS relished its reputation for brutality to Western hostages in particular, including Britons David Haines, an aid worker, and Alan Henning, a Salford taxi driver who had gone to Syria to help deliver aid. Countless others were burned or buried alive, or drowned, while suspected homosexuals were thrown from the top of buildings, and thousands of women and girls were taken as sex slaves.
In Iraq, more than 200 mass graves containing IS victims have been found containing between 6, 000 and 12, 000 bodies. Still more mass graves continue to be discovered in Syria.
At the same time, IS terrorists have carried out dozens of attacks around the world, killing and maiming thousands.
) No wonder Donald Trump was triumphant yesterday – ‘he died like a dog’ – as he announced Al-Baghdadi’s death. There have been numerous false reports of his death since the defeat of IS in 2017, but the President has a particular reason to be thrilled.
Trump is facing stinging criticism domestically and internationally that his partial withdrawal of US troops in Syria this month has left the Kurds – America’s allies in the fight against IS – exposed and created a vacuum which might allow IS to re-emerge.
The group still has thousands of armed supporters in the area. IS sleeper cells have already launched several attacks.
Al-Baghdadi’s death will bolster Trump’s claim that under his watch IS will not be allowed to regain strength and threaten American interests. But the President would be foolish to be too optimistic. The parallels between the US raids that killed Al-Baghdadi and that which killed Al Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden in Pakistan in 2011 are striking – and ominous.
Many terrorism experts argue that Al Qaeda is an even more dangerous enemy today, with thousands of battle-hardened members in South Asia, Africa and the West. Meanwhile, Islamic State is active in at least 18 countries, claiming to have carried out more than 1, 800 attacks in the first half of this year alone. Al-Baghdadi is gone and the dream of the caliphate is over – but his death has not dealt a fatal blow.
- John R Bradley is the author of After the Arab Spring: How Islamists Hijacked the Middle East Revolts
New US-led assault in Syria ‘kills ISIS spokesman Abu Hassan al-Muhajir’ just hours after the terror group’s leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi was wiped out in Commando raid
The Islamic State group’s spokesman was killed Sunday in northern Syria, a top Kurdish official said, hours after the jihadists’ leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi was announced dead.
The official with the Kurdish-led Syrian Democratic Forces – who asked not to be named because he is not authorized to speak on the issue – said IS spokesman Abu Hassan al-Muhajir had been killed, after SDF chief Mazloum Abdi said he had been ‘targeted’ in a fresh raid.
‘Al- Muhajir, the right-hand of Baghdadi and the sp okesman for IS, was targeted in the village of Ain al-Baydah near Jarablus, in a coordinated operation between SDF intelligence and the US army, ‘Abdi said on Twitter.
An AFP correspondent in Ain al -Baydah, which is controlled by Turkey-backed Syrian rebels, said two vehicles where hit by airstrikes: a small pick-up truck and a larger truck carrying a small metal container.
Firefighters extinguish the flames of a burning truck at the spot where Abu Hassan al-Muhajir, the Islamic State group’s spokesman was reported killed in a raid in the northern Syrian village of Ayn al-Bayda near Jarablus on Sunday
He saw two corpses lying outside the first vehicle while a third charred body was in the metal container.
He could not identify who was behind the strikes or if they were carried out by warplanes or a drone.
The Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights confirmed the death of al-Muhajir, saying he was among five IS members who were killed in a US-led operation backed by the SDF.
In a later post on Twitter, SDF spokesman Mustefa Bali said: ‘We believe ISIS spox. Al-Muhajir was in Jarablus to facilitate Baghdadi’s entry to Euphrates Shield area, ‘referring to a zone in northern Syria controlled by Turkey’s Syria proxies.
‘ The two US-led operations have effectively disabled top ISIS leadership who were hiding ‘in northwest Syria.
‘ More still remain hiding in the same area, ‘Bali said.
Earlier on Sunday, Trump said Baghdadi was killed , dying ‘like a dog,’ in a daring, nighttime raid by US special forces deep in northwest Syria.
Trump said that US forces killed a ‘large number’ of IS militants during the raid, which culminated in Baghdadi cornered in a tunnel, where he detonated a suicide vest.
The operation to kill Baghdadi took place near a small village in northwestern Syria called Barisha, more than a 100 kilometers west of Ain al-Baydah.
The IS ‘caliphate’ was eradicated in March, nearly five years after it was proclaimed by Baghdadi, largely reducing th e jihadist militants to scattered sleeper cells.
At the time, the IS spokesman came out of months of silence to spur on his troops.
He had not delivered a speech since March.