A US military raid in northern Syria targeted Islamic State leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, according to three officials.
The operations by US Special Forces focused on the northern province of Idlib, according to one of the people, who asked not to be identified discussing the incident. Newsweek reported that al-Baghdadi was killed in the operation, pending further verification.
If the raid was successful, al-Baghdadi would be the highest-ranking terrorist leader killed or captured since Osama bin Laden was killed in 2011.
The White House late on Saturday announced plans for an announcement by President Donald Trump at 9 a.m. EST on Sunday, soon after Trump said on Twitter that “something very big has just happened!”
The announcement will be made in Diplomatic Reception Room, the same location where he announced Oct. 23 he was lifting sanctions imposed against Turkey after the country complied with a cease-fire agreement with Kurdish forces in Syria.
White House communications aides declined to comment when asked to confirm the news Trump will announce is about al-Baghdadi.
The capture or killing of al-Baghdadi would be a boost to Trump, who has faced largely relentless and bipartisan criticism following his Oct. 6 announcement that he would pull US forces back in the face of a Turkish invasion of northern Syria. The move prompted even Republican supporters of Trump to say he was abandoning Kurdish allies of America who had helped defeat Islamic State’s “caliphate.”
Idlib province, where the raid was conducted, isn’t in the region where US forces were based or withdrew from following Trump’s decision. Instead, it has been a refuge for jidahist forces, many with links to al-Qaeda, that had held off efforts by Syrian President Bashar al-Assad’s military to retake the region. It had increasingly become the focus of Syria’s efforts, backed by Russia, to secure control over the country after more than eight years of civil war.