By Steve Herman
WHITE HOUSE - President Donald Trump says Islamic State leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi has been killed during a U.S. military special forces operation in Syria.
"Last night the United States brought the world's number one terrorist leader to justice," Trump announced from the White House on Sunday.
"No [U.S.] personnel were lost in the operation" but a large number of Baghdadi's fighters were killed, President Trump announced on Sunday from the White House.
He said the Islamic State leader was hiding a tunnel tried to flee, "whimpering, crying and screaming all the way." Trump said Baghdadi ignited his suicide vest, also killing three children.
Media reports said the mission in Syria's Idlib province included helicopters, jets and U.S. drones.
In July a U.N. report warned senior Islamic State leaders "are among those who have made their way to the Idlib area."
Baghdadi's death had been erroneously reported several times.
His last purported audio message was released in September, in which he promised the war against the United States and its allies is far from over.
The voice, purportedly that of Baghdadi, told supporters during the more than 30-minute-long audio recording that the U.S. "is now drowning in the quagmire" of Iraq and Afghanistan, adding Washington is powerless to help its allies in the region and around the world.
"No longer can it do anything but give empty talk and false promises to its partners," the voice said, according to a translation by SITE Intelligence Group.
"The wheel of attrition is running smoothly by the grace of Allah and on a daily basis and on different fronts," the voice added.
Since 2016, the United States has offered a reward of up to $25 million for information that helps bring Baghdadi to justice. Only one other person, al-Qaida leader Ayman al-Zawahiri, has a reward that high.
In March 2014, Baghdadi's wife was released by al Qaida-linked al-Nusra Front militants, along with her two sons and daughter, in exchange for 13 nuns taken captive by that group. It was reported that only the girl was Baghdadi's daughter. The two boys were the sons of a man his wife, Sujidah al-Dulaimi, had married before meeting Baghdadi.
A destroyed vehicle at the site where helicopter gunfire reportedly killed nine people near the northwestern Syrian village of Barisha in the Idlib province, Oct. 27, 2019.
Baghdadi was born in 1971 in Samarra, Iraq. He was captured by U.S. forces and held in Camp Bucca, along the Iraq-Kuwait border at some point between 2003 and 2009 before being released.
In 2014, he declared the creation of the Islamic State "caliphate" in Syria and Iraq and declared himself caliph.
IS itself quickly overran much of Iraq and Syria and at its height may have controlled as much as 40 percent of Iraq.
In June 2017, the Iraqi government declared victory over IS in the city Mosul. Iraqi Prime Minster Haider al Abadi declared complete victory over the militant group in December 2017.
In March 2019, U.S.-Backed Syrian Defense Forces forces announce the liberation of Baghuz, the last IS-held territory in Syria.
Jeff Seldin and Carla Babb contributed to this report.