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US military confirms al-Baghdadi was buried at sea; releases video, photo of Syria raid

News Agencies | Updated on: 31 October 2019, 8:27 IST

The US military on Wednesday confirmed that Islamic State (ISIS) leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, who was killed in an operation in Syria's Idlib province, was buried at sea in accordance with international norms, and released a video footage and photos of the raid which showed the compound where the terrorist was hiding.

Describing the entire operation that took place last week, Central Command (CENTCOM) chief General Frank McKenzie lauded the forces for carrying out a "hard" and "risky work" and said that the raid was planned in a way to avoid detection by ISIS and others prior to and during execution and prevent civilian casualties.

"al-Baghdadi was the subject of an intense inter-agency effort to bring him to justice, and that effort significantly advanced recently as we closed in on his whereabouts. As it became clear that we had gained fleeting and actionable intelligence on his hideout, we developed an execution level plan designed to capture or kill him and started preparing a special operations team for the mission," he told reporters at a Pentagon briefing here.

"The general outline of the mission was a helicopter assault by special operation forces that were pre-staged in Syria. I can assure you that the plan was significantly more complex than that, and designed to avoid detection by ISIS and others prior to and during execution, to avoid civilian casualties," McKenzie said.

Explaining the declassified black and white video and the photographs of the operation in which the US forces are seen closing in on al-Baghdadi's compound, the CENTCOM chief said that terrorists began firing on the US aircraft present during the raid.

"Here we see the object of the assault -- the compound where al-Baghdadi was hiding. As I noted earlier, this isolated compound was in Idlib province in Northwest Syria. At the compound, fighters from two locations in the vicinity of the compound began firing on US aircraft participating in the assault," McKenzie said.

"With the assault force surrounding the compound, we repeatedly urged those inside to come out peacefully," he added.

The CENTCOM chief said that every effort was made to protect children suspected to be present in the compound despite the "high-pressure" and "high-profile" of the raid.

McKenzie stated that despite repeated calls to surrender, al-Baghdadi killed himself by detonating a bomb along with his two children and stressed that the DNA test confirmed the identity of the ISIS chief.

"When capture at the hands of US forces was imminent, al-Baghdadi detonated a bomb killing himself and two young children. After al-Baghdadi's murder-suicide, our assault force cleared significant debris from the tunnel and secured Baghdadi's remains for DNA identity confirmation," McKenzie continued.

"The rapid analysis (during DNA test) showed a direct match between the samples and produced a level of certainty that the remains belonged to Baghdadi of 1 in 104 septillion. al-Baghdadi's remains were buried at sea in accordance with the Law of Armed conflict within 24 hours of his death," he said.

Summing up, McKenzie said that the operation was "exquisitely planned and executed" and lauded agencies for their contribution in the raid.

"This operation was exquisitely planned and executed. It demonstrates the United States' global reach and our unwavering commitment to destroy ISIS. This was a true inter-agency effort so I commend our partners across the US government," he said.

"The individuals who planned and conducted this mission are quiet professionals, focused on their mission above glory or recognition. Committed people did hard, risky work, and they did it well," McKenzie added.

al-Baghdadi, the most high-profile and notorious terrorist, had been in hiding for the past five years.

Back in April, he had appeared in a propaganda video a week after a series of bombings rattled Sri Lanka, in which more than 250 people were killed. He had also periodically issued audio statements, with the last being in August 2018.

The US had earlier announced a reward of USD 25 million for information leading to al-Baghdadi's death or arrest.

Meanwhile, President Donald Trump on Tuesday announced that the American military "terminated" the likely successor of al-Baghdadi.

Trump, however, did not identify the person or give more detail on how the individual was killed.

First published: 31 October 2019, 8:27 IST