Defense Department officials are slowly leaking out details of the shocking raid in western Syria that resulted in the death of ISIS mastermind, Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi — and there may even be video of the exact moment al-Baghdadi detonated his own suicide vest, killing himself and several members of his family so that he couldn’t be taken alive by the American military.
The Daily Mail reports that “between 50 and 70 members of the US Army Delta Force and Rangers flew in on six helicopters and surrounded al-Baghdadi during the overnight raid in Syria’s Idlib province,” per sources.
The attack had been planned for weeks, President Donald Trump told reporters during a press conference Sunday morning, and a special team of soldiers was amassed for the raid. The team knew, based on information from friendly intelligence sources in the area, that al-Baghdadi was “lurking in Syrian border towns, often wearing non-traditional or ‘regular’ clothes, using a civilian car, and making sure anyone around him had no mobile phones or electronic devices in order to bypass detection,” according to Fox News.
Al-Baghdadi arrived at the compound where he ultimately perished a mere 48 hours before the U.S. military’s raid. He was accompanied there by two of his wives and several of his children, all of whom were outfitted with suicide vests.
Defense officials said Sunday that the team made several attempts to capture the ISIS bigwig — easily the world’s most wanted terrorist — but aborted them. The raid that took place sometime between Friday evening and Sunday morning in Syria was successful.
Defense Secretary Mark Esper told ABC News’s “This Week” that “[t]he stars started lining up some time ago…It wasn’t until Thursday and then Friday the president chose his option and gave us the green light to proceed.”
Esper called the President’s move a “bold decision.” He added that special operations forces came in by helicopter and were on the ground for more than two hours, with less than 100 U.S. forces deployed in the raid. There were no American deaths, though two soldiers and one military canine reportedly sustained “minor injuries.”
The operation to capture or kill al-Baghdadi also appears to have come in the middle of a larger offensive on ISIS positions in and near Barisha, Syria. The Daily Mail reports that the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights documented a two-hour air raid on known ISIS positions sometime late Saturday, involving eight helicopters and a “warplane.”
Photos of burned out buildings and cars in Barisha emerged Sunday morning.
Newsweek added that a senior administration official confirmed a “brief firefight” between the ISIS leader and American forces before al-Baghdadi reportedly raced into escape tunnels that connected to his temporary home.
According to President Donald Trump, who detailed al-Baghdadi’s final moments in his statement to the press Sunday morning, al-Baghdadi was wearing a suicide vest and took several members of his family, including at least three of his children, with him when he detonated his own explosives.
“He reached the end of the tunnel as our dogs chased him down. He ignited his vest, killing himself and the three children,” Trump said. “His body was mutilated by the blast. the tunnel had caved in on it, in addition. But test results gave certain, immediate and totally positive identification. It was him. 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.”
Defense officials seemed to indicate that American forces eliminated al-Baghdadi’s compound after the terrorist leader was confirmed dead.
In the early hours of Sunday morning, a video, appearing to show the detonation that marked the last moments of al-Baghdadi’s life, made the rounds on social media. The video has yet to be confirmed, according to CNN, but the location and timing of the blast shown in the video seems to match the timeline of the U.S. special forces raid.
Al-Baghdadi has been at the top of the United States’ most wanted list since 2014, when he took the reins of the Islamic State, declaring himself the head of a “Caliphate,” and the mastermind of a terrorist network that operated in as many as 30 countries and is likely responsible for killing at least 2,000 people and enslaving, torturing, and displacing thousands of others.