Islamic State leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi is believed to have been killed in a U.S. military operation in Syria, sources in Syria, Iraq and Iran said on Sunday, as U.S. President Donald Trump prepared to make a “major statement” at the White House.
A U.S. official, speaking on condition of anonymity, told Reuters that Baghdadi was targeted in the overnight raid but was unable to say whether the operation was successful.
A commander of one of the militant factions in the northwestern Syrian province of Idlib said Baghdadi was believed to have been killed in a raid after midnight on Saturday involving helicopters, warplanes and a ground clash in the village of Brisha near the Turkish border.
Two Iraqi security sources and two Iranian officials said they had received confirmation from inside Syria that Baghdadi had been killed.
“Our sources from inside Syria have confirmed to the Iraqi intelligence team tasked with pursuing Baghdadi that he has been killed alongside his personal bodyguard in Idlib after his hiding place was discovered when he tried to get his family out of Idlib towards the Turkish border,” one of the Iraqi officials said.
U.S. magazine Newsweek, which first reported the news, said it had been told by a U.S. Army official briefed on the raid that Baghdadi was dead. It said the operation was carried out by special operations forces after receiving actionable intelligence.
The Pentagon did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
White House spokesman Hogan Gidley announced late on Saturday that Trump would make a “major statement” at 9 a.m. EST (1300 GMT) on Sunday. Gidley gave no further details.
The president gave an indication that something was afoot earlier on Saturday night when he tweeted without explanation, “Something very big has just happened!”
Trump has faced withering criticism from both Republicans and Democrats alike for his U.S. troop withdrawal from northeastern Syria, which permitted Turkey to attack America’s Kurdish allies.