Chatter from US officials indicates a special operation mission targeted IS leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi in Syria. Neither the operation, nor its outcome, have been officially confirmed
US special forces conducted an operation in Syria targeting "Islamic State" (IS) leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi on Saturday, several US news outlets reported, citing anonymous sources.
It was unclear if the raid in northwest Idlib province near the border with Turkey was successful. Media including Newsweek, Reuters, the Associated Press, CNN and Fox News cited officials saying that the elusive terror leader had been targeted.
Officials said they were examining whether Baghdadi had been killed in an explosion.
SDF: 'Successful operation'
The commander of the Kurdish-led Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) tweeted on Sunday that a "successful
operation" resulted from joint intelligence work with the United States. He did, however, not mention Baghdadi in the post.
An Iraqi security source told Reuters that "our sources from inside Syria have confirmed ... 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."
Iraqi state TV announced it would air footage of the raid killed Baghdadi and cited a terrorism expert who said the country's intelligence agencies had helped to locate the IS leader.
The White House announced that President Donald Trump will make "a major statement" at 9 a.m. (1300 UTC).
The news followed a tweet from Trump in the evening in which he said: "Something very big has just happened!"
Reports of US raid
The speculation that Baghdadi may have been killed came amid reports that US helicopters backed by drones and warplanes crossed from Turkey to conduct a raid west of the town of Barisha, several kilometers from the border.
The area is controlled by the Hayat Tahrir al-Sham — a group led by Syria's former al-Qaida affiliate — and rival of IS that has often fought against the group.
It's unclear how or why Baghdadi would be in such a hostile environment. Regional and US intelligence officials have long believed he was located in eastern Syria near the border with Iraq.
Baghdadi was purported to have last issued a statement in September, when he called on followers to free tens of thousands of jihadis and family members from prison and detention camps controlled by the Kurdish-led Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) in northeastern Syria.
Not seen since 2014
Baghdadi has not been seen in public since an appearance at the Grand al-Nuri Mosque in Iraq's second largest city Mosul in 2014, when he proclaimed himself the leader of the "IS caliphate."
At its height, the group controlled larges swaths of territory and millions of people in Syria and Iraq until Iraqi forces and the US-backed SDF vanquished the territorial caliphate.
The raid comes as Trump has faced criticism over his decision to pull troops out of northeast Syria, paving the way for a Turkish military operation against the SDF that has led the fight against IS.
The move prompted concern that the terror outfit could take advantage of the instability to regain strength.