Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, the fugitive leader of the Islamic State (ISIS), has killed himself during a military raid by the United States (US) in northwestern Syria, US President Donald Trump announced on Sunday.
Many parties described al-Baghdadi’s death as an important step in the fight against “terrorism”, with some others attaching little importance to it with skepticism.
“Last night, the US brought the world’s number one terrorist leader to justice. Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi is dead. 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. He died like a dog, he died like a coward,” Trump said.
Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan welcomed al-Baghdadi’s killing, saying it marked a turning point in the joint fight against terrorism.
“I am confident that a decisive struggle against terrorism, in line with the spirit of alliance, will bring peace to all of humanity. The killing of Daesh’s ringleader marks a turning point in our joint fight against terrorism. Turkey will continue to support anti-terror efforts — as it has done in the past,” Erdogan tweeted.
Russia, which some analysts say has recently emerged as the most powerful player in Syria’s complex war in its ninth year, approached the killing report with skepticism.
“The Russian Ministry of Defense does not have reliable information on the US servicemen conducting an operation in the Turkish-controlled part of the de-escalation zone of Idlib on yet another ‘elimination’ of the former IS[IS] leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi,” Russian local news agency RIA quoted Major-General Igor Konashenkov as saying.
Russia’s ally in the region, Iran, defined the incident as “not a big deal”, responding to Trump’s tweet which said, “something very big has just happened!”
“Not a big deal. You just killed your creature,” Iranian Information Minister Mohammed Javad Azari-Jahromi tweeted on his social media account, referring to Iranian claim which says the US had first created ISIS.
Two important members of the European Union (EU) praised the US move but cautioned that the ISIS threat still continues.
“We will continue the fight against Daesh [ISIL] without rest, with our partners, adapting ourselves to new regional circumstances. I congratulate our American allies for this operation,” French Defence Minister Florence Parly posted a Twitter message.
“The death of Baghdadi is an important moment in our fight against terror but the battle against the evil of Daesh is not yet over. We will work with our coalition partners to bring an end to the murderous, barbaric activities of Daesh once and for all,” UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson said on Twitter.
The Kurdish-led Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF), which controls important areas in the region as well as prisons holding the ISIS fighters, emphasized the cooperation behind the operation.
“For five months there has been joint intell[igence] cooperation on the ground and accurate monitoring until we achieved a joint operation to kill Abu Bakir al-Bagdadi. Thanks to everybody who participates in this great mission,” the SDF Commander Mazloum Abdi said on Twitter.
Confirming the SDF remarks, Trump thanked Russia for its opening up the airspace it controls for the operation, in addition to Turkey, Syria, Iraq and the SDF for their “certain supports” to the move.
The ISIS chief died with three of his children as he ignited his suicide vest in a tunnel where he had run into during the US operation, the US president said in a press conference.
In the US operation, an undisclosed number of ISIS members were also killed and some others were captured, according to the president. Two of al-Baghdadi’s wives were among the captured ones, wearing undetonated explosive vests.
Eleven uninjured children were removed from the compound located in the village of Barisha in Idlib province, near the Turkish border.
Idlib, the last stronghold of rebels against Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, was not thought to be a place for al-Baghdadi to be hiding as the jihadists in the region were opposed to the ISIS.
Trump claimed that al-Baghdadi was there as part of a plan to rebuild the group.
The leader of the ISIS, or Daesh (Arabic acronym), came to the fore in 2014 when he declared a self-proclaimed “caliphate”. The group later took control of large parts of Syria and Iraq by carrying out multiple atrocities that resulted in thousands of deaths.
The caliphate has since collapsed. However, analysts say the group still poses risk, with its affiliates active in some parts of the region and some other countries.
The SDF had recently claimed that hundreds of foreigners affiliated with ISIS managed to escape camps and prisons where they were being held during Turkish shelling in Turkey’s latest incursion into the region.