U.S. President Donald Trump on Sunday confirmed that Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi died during an overnight raid led by U.S. military forces in Syria.
Under Iraqi-born Baghdadi’s rule, Islamic State — which at one point controlled swathes of Syria and Iraq — is responsible for gruesome attacks against religious minorities and attacks on five continents in the name of a form of ultra-fanatical Islam.
Reuters reports that the death of Baghdadi was an important win for Trump weeks after his sudden decision to withdraw U.S. troops from Syria sparked a wave of harsh criticism, including from fellow Republicans, that the move would lead to a resurgence of Islamic State.
“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,” the Republican president said in a televised address to the nation from the White House.
Trump said Baghdadi died after running into a dead-end tunnel.
“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.
In what may end up being one of Trump’s most important national security achievements, the killing of Baghdadi will help the Republican president project strength as he fights a widening impeachment inquiry launched by Democrats last month.