BREAKING: Trump approves Special Ops raid targeting ISIS leader Baghdadi and military says he’s dead

The United States military has conducted a special operations raid targeting one of its most high-value targets, Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, the leader of the Islamic State militant group (ISIS), Newsweek has learned. President Donald Trump approved the mission nearly a week before it took place.

Amid reports Saturday of U.S. military helicopters over Syria’s northwestern Idlib province, a senior Pentagon official familiar with the operation and Army official briefed on the matter told Newsweek that Baghdadi was the target of the top-secret operation in the last bastion of the country’s Islamist-dominated opposition, a faction that has clashed with ISIS in recent years.

A U.S. Army official briefed on the results of the operation told Newsweek that Baghdadi was killed in the raid. And the Defense Department told the White House they have “high confidence” that the high-value target killed was Baghdadi, but further verification is pending.

Members of a team from the Joint Special Operations Command carried out Saturday’s high-level operation after receiving actionable intelligence, according to sources familiar with the operation. The location raided by special operations troops had been under surveillance for some time.

On Saturday night, after the operation had concluded, President Trump tweeted: “Something very big has just happened!” The White House announced later that the president will make a “major statement” Sunday morning at 9:00 a.m.

Baghdadi, an Iraqi national, is an ultraconservative cleric who became active in the Islamist insurgency against U.S. forces following the 2003 invasion that toppled Iraqi President Saddam Hussein.

He was held by U.S. forces in the detention centers of Abu Ghraib and Camp Bucca, where a number of future jihadi leaders rubbed shoulders while in military custody.

He went on to join Al-Qaeda in Iraq, rising up the ranks of the violent group as it merged with others to form the Islamic State of Iraq and eventually inherited its leadership in 2010, when his predecessor was killed in a joint U.S.-Iraqi operation.

As the group took advantage of a U.S. military exit to further expand, he renamed the group to the Islamic State of Iraq and al-Sham—or the Levant—better known as ISIS, in 2013, seeking to expand to neighboring Syria, where a civil war was raging.

Baghdadi’s forces made lightning gains across both Iraq and Syria, and in 2014 he declared his group a global caliphate from the Grand Al-Nuri Mosque in Iraq’s second city of Mosul in his only known public appearance as ISIS leader.

Officially known from then on simply as the Islamic State, the group began to grab world attention not only for atrocities committed across the region, but in high-profile strikes on civilians in the West as well.

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