Fugitive Islamic State (ISIS) leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi has been reported dead.
He was killed during a raid by U.S. special forces in northwest Syria, President Donald Trump announced on Sunday.
Baghdadi killed himself during the raid by detonating a suicide vest after fleeing into a dead-end tunnel, Trump said in a televised address from the White House.
He was positively identified by DNA tests 15 minutes after he died, the president said.
“He was a sick and depraved man and now he’s gone,” Trump said.
Trump said “many” of Baghdadi’s people were killed and added that in blowing himself up, Baghdadi also killed three children.
U.S. forces suffered no personnel losses, he said, with the only injury being to a military dog. He also thanked Russia, Turkey, Syria and Iraq for their support.
Baghdadi had long been sought by the United States as head of a jihadist group that at one point controlled large areas of Syria and Iraq, where it declared a caliphate.
Islamic State has carried out atrocities against religious minorities and attacks on five continents, a campaign that has spanned over a decade.
In recent years the group had lost most of its territory.
“The thug who tried so hard to intimidate others spent his last moments in utter fear, panic and dread, terrified of the American forces coming down on him,” Trump said.
“He reached the end of the tunnel as our dogs chased him down. He ignited his vest, killing himself and his three children. His body was mutilated by the blasts. The tunnel had caved on him,” Trump added.
Russia opened up its airspace for the raid and Kurdish allies gave some helpful information, according to Trump, who said he watched the operation unfold in the Situation Room of the White House, with Vice President Mike Pence and others.
Trump had faced withering criticism from fellow Republicans and Democrats for announcing a withdrawal of U.S. troops from northeastern Syria earlier this month, which permitted Turkey to attack America’s Kurdish allies as it sought to set up a “safe zone”.
Trump said the raid would not change his decision to withdraw troops from Syria.
Reign of Terror
At the height of its power, Islamic State ruled over millions of people in territory running from northern Syria through towns and villages along the Tigris and Euphrates valleys to the outskirts of the Iraqi capital Baghdad.
Thousands of civilians were killed by the group as it mounted what the United Nations called a genocidal campaign against Iraq’s Yazidi minority.
It also caused worldwide revulsion by beheading foreign nationals from countries including the United States, Britain and Japan.
The group has claimed responsibility for or inspired attacks in dozens of cities including Paris, Nice, Orlando, Manchester, London and Berlin, and in nearby Turkey, Iran, Saudi Arabia and Egypt.
But in 2017 the group lost control of Mosul in Iraq and Raqqa in Syria, and quickly thereafter almost all of its territory, turning Baghdadi into a fugitive.