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Islamic State leader al Baghdadi believed to be dead after US raid in Syria

Donald Trump said ‘something very big had just happened’.

Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi was targeted in Syria’s Idlib province. (AP)
Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi was targeted in Syria’s Idlib province. (AP)

By Robert Burns and Eric Tucker, Associated Press

The leader of the Islamic State militant network is believed to be dead after being targeted by a US military raid in Syria.

A official told The Associated Press Abu Bakr al Baghdadi was targeted in Syria’s Idlib province.

The official said confirmation that the IS chief was killed in an explosion is pending.

US President Donald Trump teased a major announcement, tweeting on Saturday night that “Something very big has just happened!”

A White House spokesman, Hogan Gidley, would say only that the president would be making a “major statement” at 9am on Sunday Washington time (1pm GMT).

The strike came amid concerns that a recent American pullback from northeastern Syria could infuse new strength into the militant group, which had lost vast stretches of territory it had once controlled.

Al Baghdadi led IS for the last five years, presiding over its ascendancy as it cultivated a reputation for beheadings and attracted hundreds of thousands of followers to a sprawling and self-styled caliphate in Iraq and Syria.

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A number of terror attacks have been linked to IS, including the Bataclan in Paris (Stefan Rousseau/PA)

He remained among the few IS commanders still at large despite multiple claims in recent years about his death and even as his so-called caliphate dramatically shrank, with many supporters who joined the cause either imprisoned or jailed.

His exhortations were instrumental in inspiring terrorist attacks in the heart of Europe and in the United States.

Shifting away from the airline hijackings and other mass-casualty attacks that came to define al-Qaida, al Baghdadi and other IS leaders supported smaller-scale acts of violence that would be harder for law enforcement to prepare for and prevent.

They encouraged jihadists who could not travel to the caliphate to kill where they were, with whatever weapon they had at their disposal.

In the US, multiple extremists have pledged their allegiance to al Baghdadi on social media, including a woman who along with her husband committed a 2015 massacre at a holiday party in San Bernardino, California.

With a 25 million dollar (£19.5 million) bounty on his head, al Baghdadi had been far less visible in recent years, releasing only sporadic audio recordings, including one just last month in which he called on members of the extremist group to do all they could to free IS detainees and women held in jails and camps.

The purported audio was his first public statement since last April, when he appeared in a video for the first time in five years.

In 2014, he was a black-robed figure delivering a sermon from the pulpit of Mosul’s Great Mosque of al-Nuri, his only known public appearance.

He urged Muslims around the world to swear allegiance to the caliphate and obey him as its leader.

“It is a burden to accept this responsibility to be in charge of you,” he said in the video.

“I am not better than you or more virtuous than you. If you see me on the right path, help me. If you see me on the wrong path, advise me and halt me. And obey me as far as I obey God.”

PA

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