WASHINGTON — Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, the shadowy leader of the Islamic State group who presided over its global jihad and became arguably the world’s most wanted man, blew himself up as U.S. special operators cornered him during a raid in Syria, President Donald Trump said Sunday.
“Last night, the United States brought the world’s No. 1 terrorist leader to justice,” Trump announced at the White House, providing graphic details of al-Baghdadi’s final moments at the helm of the militant organization. “Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi is dead.”
In a national address, Trump described the nighttime airborne raid in Syria’s northwestern Idlib province, with American special operations forces flying over heavily militarized territory controlled by multiple nations and forces. No U.S. troops were killed in the operation, Trump said.
The death of al-Baghdadi was a milestone in the fight against IS, which brutalized swaths of Syria and Iraq and sought to direct a global campaign from a self-declared “caliphate.” A yearslong campaign by American and allied forces led to the recapture of the group’s territorial holding, but its violent ideology has continued to inspire attacks.
As U.S. troops bore down on al-Baghdadi, he fled into a “dead-end” tunnel with three of his children, Trump said, and detonated a suicide vest. “He was a sick and depraved man, and now he’s gone,” Trump said. “He died like a dog. He died like a coward.”
Al-Baghdadi’s identity was confirmed by a DNA test conducted onsite, Trump said.
Trump had teased a major announcement late Saturday, tweeting that “Something very big has just happened!” By the morning, he was thanking Russia, Turkey, Syria and Iraq, as well as Kurdish fighters in Syria for their support.
The operation marks a significant foreign policy success for Trump, coming at one of the lowest points in his presidency as he is mired in impeachment proceedings and facing widespread Republican condemnation for his Syria policy.
The recent pullback of U.S. troops he ordered from northeastern Syria raised a storm of bipartisan criticism in Washington that the militant group could regain strength after it had lost vast stretches of territory it had once controlled. Trump said the troop pullout “had nothing to do with this.”
Planning for the operation began weeks ago, Trump said, after the U.S. gained unspecified intelligence on al-Baghdadi’s whereabouts. Eight military helicopters flew for more than an hour over territory controlled by Russian and Syrian forces, Trump said, before landing under gunfire at the compound.
Trump vividly described the raid and took extensive questions from reporters for more than 45 minutes Sunday. He said U.S. forces breached the walls of the building because the doors were booby-trapped and chased al-Baghdadi into the tunnel, which partially collapsed after al-Baghdadi detonated the suicide vest. Many homes in Syria, which has been riven by civil war since 2011, have subterranean tunnels or shelters from the fighting.
Trump also revealed that U.S. forces spent roughly two hours on the ground collecting valuable intelligence.
The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said Sunday that the U.S.-led Coalition launched at least one airstrike in western Aleppo aimed at Abu Hassan al-Muhajer, an aide to al-Baghdadi.
Trump said he watched the operation from the White House Situation room as it played out live “as though you were watching a movie.” Trump suggested he may order the release of the video so that the world knows al-Baghdadi did not die a hero and spent his final moments “crying, “whimpering” and “screaming.”
Trump approved the operation Saturday morning after receiving “actionable intelligence,” Vice President Mike Pence told CBS’ “Face the Nation.”
Trump had spent Friday night at Camp David and flew by helicopter Saturday morning to golf at his private Virginia club. He then returned to the White House.
Trump said he teased the announcement as soon as American forces landed safely in a third-country. An Iraqi security official confirmed the U.S. aircraft took off from the Al-Asad air base in western Iraq, where Trump visited American forces in December.
Trump said he did not follow convention in informing leaders on Capitol Hill, including House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., before the raid, saying he was fearful of leaks.
Pelosi said the House “must be briefed on this raid, which the Russians but not top congressional leadership were notified of in advance, and on the administration’s overall strategy in the region.”
Defense Secretary Mark Esper said the mission was to capture or kill the IS leader. While Trump had initially said no Americans were injured, Esper said two service members suffered minor injuries but have already returned to duty. Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., said a military dog chasing al-Baghdadi was seriously wounded by an explosive blast.
In his address from the White House, Trump suggested that the killing of al-Baghdadi was more significant than the 2011 operation ordered by his predecessor, President Barack Obama, that killed al-Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden, who was responsible for the 9/11 attacks. Trump later repeated a false claim that he predicted the threat posed by bin Laden in a book before the 2001 attacks.
He also praised Russia and the Syrian government — American foes — and defended his ban on entry to the U.S. from some Muslim-majority countries. He called European allies “a tremendous disappointment” for not repatriating foreign IS fighters.
Trump’s national security adviser, Robert O’Brien, said al-Baghdadi’s remains would be dealt with in accordance with Islamic law and buried at sea in the same way that bin Laden’s were.
Praise for the military operation was swift, coming from American allies and even the president’s political opponents. In congratulating the U.S. forces and intelligence officials, but not Trump, former Vice President Joe Biden warned that IS “remains a threat to the American people and our allies.”
One counterterrorism expert said al-Baghdadi’s death is not the end of IS.
“Counterterrorism must be part of the strategy, but reducing the strategy to just special operations raids and drone targeting, as this administration seems to want to, guarantees a forever war,” said Katherine Zimmerman of the American Enterprise Institute. She said extremists’ strength and staying power lies in the support they have locally.
Divorce is expensive.
Just ask any of the 35,000 people who filed for one in North Carolina last year.
One Cary-based law firm said they charge a minimum between $1,500 and $10,000 to help someone file for divorce, depending on the complexity of the case.
That high cost could explain why 75% of Americans do not use lawyers when filing.
In North Carolina, more than 60% don’t use a lawyer when filing, according to the N.C. Equal Access to Justice Commission.
That’s why the North Carolina Judicial branch created a statewide self-help packet to walk people through filing for divorce if they can’t afford an attorney, said Jennifer Simmons, senior project manager of the commission.
“Our goal is to really help somebody through the process, from screening themselves to filling out the paperwork,” she said. “We want to be there to hold somebody’s hand from the very beginning to the very end of the process.”
Simmons said the commission created the packet after polling attorneys, legal aid providers, court personnel and clerks to find out what were North Carolina’s judicial needs. Overwhelmingly, this packet came in No. 1 every time.
The packet breaks down the judicial process, key terminology, rules for getting a divorce, what happens inside the courtroom and how to dress. It also provides all the needed forms.
More than 10,000 people have accessed the self-help packet since it became available in July.
“Thousands of people in North Carolina file for a simple divorce without the assistance of a lawyer every year,” said Cheri Beasley, chief justice of the N.C. Supreme Court. “This new self-help packet will serve as a guide for them, moving us closer toward our goal of ensuring equal access to the courts. It will also make it easier for court staff to assist them, ensure that there are fewer errors in their filings, and save court resources.”
The packet also provides information about when to hire an attorney.
McKinley Wooten, interim director of the N.C. Administrative Office of the Courts, said in a news release that hiring an attorney is the preferred way to get a divorce but acknowledged that’s not always affordable.
“This packet aims to allow potential litigants to assess whether their circumstances are appropriate for a simple divorce,” Wooten said, “or whether their case has complicating factors necessitating consultation with counsel prior to filing.”
The packet suggests hiring an attorney if domestic violence is a factor, if you’re filing for equitable distribution of marital property, if child custody is an issue, or if filing for alimony or post-separation support.
“There are going to be some people that this is not right for and that need a lawyer,” Simmons said. “That last thing we want is someone waiving their rights or making a decision that they will regret later.”