Trump said the “impeccable” two-hour operation was conducted on Saturday night in the province of Idlib, one of the few areas of the country still outside Syrian regime control, and that US officials had confirmed Baghdadi, 48, was among those killed.
“US special operations forces executed a dangerous and daring night-time raid in north-west Syria and accomplished their mission in grand style,” he said.
The US president, facing impeachment proceedings and under bipartisan fire for withdrawing troops from the Syrian border, basked in the demise of the self-styled caliphate leader, whose final moments he described in vivid, indulgent detail.
“[Baghdadi] running into a dead-end tunnel, whimpering and crying and screaming all the way,” Trump said.
Cornered, Baghdadi detonated a suicide vest and killed himself and three of his children, Trump said. “He died like a dog, he died like a coward. The world is now a much safer place,” he said.
World leaders welcomed the news of Baghdadi’s death but also struck notes of caution. Boris Johnson, the British prime minister, said: “The death of Baghdadi is an important moment in our fight against terror but the battle against the evil of Daesh [Isis] is not yet over.”
Trump said US forces were engaged with “massive firepower” as their helicopters arrived at the building where Baghdadi was sheltering with his family and associates.
“The compound had to be cleared at this time, with people either surrendering or being shot and killed,” he said. “Eleven young children were moved out of the house and are uninjured.
“The only ones remaining were Baghdadi in the tunnel, and he had dragged three of his young children with him. They were led to a certain death. He reached the end of the tunnel as our dogs chased him down.
“[Baghdadi] ignited his vest, killing himself and the three children. Test results gave certain, immediate and totally positive identification. It was him.”