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ISIS Leader Believed to Have Been Killed in U.S. Raid. Aired 1- 2a ET

Aired October 27, 2019 - 01:00   ET




UNIDENTIFIED MALE (voice-over): This is CNN breaking news.

PAULA NEWTON, CNN ANCHOR (voice-over): We have breaking news that ISIS leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi is believed to have been killed in a U.S. raid in northwest Syria. Now a U.S. Defense official tells CNN that al-Baghdadi apparently detonated a suicide vest as U.S. Special Forces were closing in on him. Final confirmation is pending DNA analysis and other positive identifiers, in their words. Al-Baghdadi has been in hiding for five years. And we are being told that locating him was based on crucial CIA intelligence. President Trump is expected to make a major announcement on Sunday morning at 9:00 am Eastern.

Earlier, though, he tweeted, I quote, "Something very big has just happened."

And I want to go now to our Nick Paton Walsh who is in northern Iraq.

Nick, we are seeing video there of 2014 in Mosul, him declaring the ISIS caliphate. To put this into context for us, an incredible turn of events, especially as in the last couple of weeks, the United States forces actually moved out of Syria and were retreating.

NICK PATON WALSH, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Yes, there are two things here to really know, the first is that the author of the ISIS ideology is appeared to be dead at this point, it is believed that Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi instead.

Now the ideology can live on but certainly it's a lot harder for it to inspire if the man who played elusive, who evaded many different nations trying to kill him for years, is in fact death and was, in fact, killed by the very nation he had sworn to destroy, United States.

Secondly, if the other point you make, this is a badly needed, frankly, victory for the United States foreign policy in this area. While their own commander-in-chief has spent really the last fortnight eroding their position in the fight against ISIS, depriving them of tactical locations to continue that fight, handing over territory to Turkey at a time it seems, also Russia to take control at exactly the same time they have been having to pack up and move away in a hurry and get out of town, they have still been able to kill the world's most wanted man.

A startling feat, frankly, at the best of times but this was the worst of times for the U.S. military so Donald Trump will be standing up in the next eight or nine hours or so, announcing what he refers to as something very big. And we do seems to have increasing indications now it will be announcing up the death of Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi.

But we have to say that announcement, self congratulating as it probably will be, will be in spite of his own orders, his own efforts. But still, let's not lose sight of the key issue here, which is the death of the world's most wanted man, a man who inspired an ideology in the Middle East that was frankly sickening to the vast majority of people in this region who viewed those videos, who saw a kind of savagery that was at the heart of the ISIS message.

Yes, they purported to be a purer brand of Islamic, they purported to try and instill values which hark back two centuries ago and perhaps they found adherents who felt that was preferable to the savagery of Syria's civil war but at the same time, they exported that globally, they used online videos, messaging, telegram channels, to apparatus of the modern age to project a brand and idea that is possible to corrupt the normal parts of civilization that the majority of the world enjoy.

Remember, this happened from the Philippines, this happened in southern Russia, this happened in the streets of Paris, this happened in the United States, this was an ideology that was infectious for those people who seemed warped in their own mindset, lacking in something in their own daily lives that they let it into their minds and let it inspired acts that were against innocent civilians, often random, indiscriminate, so, many of the ISIS attacks didn't really seem to care who they killed, provided it was public and it was brutal.

And people grieved horrifyingly as a result of it. But that ideology has taken a substantial blow here, just think of a parallel, Al Qaeda. They were not at their peak, it's fair to say in 2012 or so, they were beginning to slow. But bin Laden was still a free man and when he was killed Al Qaeda went underground for a number of years. They may have emerged since using that silence to regroup but they took a body blow because of the symbolic death of Osama bin Laden, hiding in Pakistan, reached by U.S. Special Forces.


WALSH: An extraordinary daring raid that capitalized on intelligence the CIA had honed and analyzed for years, a death of frankly a story by Hollywood movies now because of the complexity and the daring of that operation. That was a definitive point in the decline of Al Qaeda.

This would certainly be a similar moment in the decline of ISIS, it's seen its territory shrink from a caliphate that's spanned Syria and Iraq, that had its own currency. That traded with its neighbors to some degree on the black market to gain revenue, to export its ideology. I spoke to one U.S. Defense official who told me today he had actually

seen physical things exported from Raqqah, exported from that so- called caliphate, to Europe, to the outside world, to carry out those terror attacks. It was a base of operations to some degree.

And then, using the Syrian Kurds, who lost 10,000-plus sons and daughters fighting alongside the United States and other coalition nations to kick ISIS out of that territory and reducing often the towns they had taken over to rubble in that fight. They were squeezed back to a tiny sliver of territory in Baghouz in southeastern Syria in the early parts of this year.

And that particular final bloody defeat had led them to lack anything they could call their own in terms of territory. Yes, they still existed in terms of a place in people's hearts or souls, who sympathized with them. Yes, they still have family members, children, wives held in the al-Hol camp. They still had 10,000 plus fighters in detention but they was shattered as a physical entity.

And people were frankly wondering, what the next step for them would be when it became clear in the last three weeks that there would be a vacuum of chaos in which they could regroup.

But now if that regrouping manages to happen, because of the chaos set in by Donald Trump's decision to allow Turkey's incursion, recently, they will be doing so without their figurehead, without their leader, Abu Baker al-Baghdadi.

He may have taken his own life in those closing moments. That is still to be determined but certainly, whatever message he sends, in the way he chose to die, his death was not at a time of his choosing and, one I think which will show the reach of U.S. military power and U.S. intelligence is frankly beyond parallel.

They were able to find this man at their most complicated moments in Syria and Iraq during their ISIS campaign. And it does appear that he is now dead. We still await confirmation from the U.S. commander in chief, president Donald Trump in the hours ahead.

But it is startling, frankly, that I'm able to stand here and give this message in a time when we have seen nothing in the past two to three weeks in the deterioration of the U.S. tactical position here. Remarkable that this raid has been successful, it seems and at a very complicated time for the U.S. here.

NEWTON: No doubt, that what might be symbolic of a still important at a time that ISIS is trying to reconstitute itself, perhaps principally there where you are in Iraq. Nick, we will have to stand by for a moment and go to Sam Kiley.

Sam, as I go to, you we are getting information that there were special commando forces, again working in northwest Syria. U.S. Special Forces, of course, on that CIA intelligence.

You can only imagine the danger and the daring that it took to go into that region and start this operation and execute it in a certain way of success. A lot on the line. We certainly saw it play, out, really frame by frame after we learned of Osama bin Laden in Pakistan and can only imagine the details are similar here.

SAM KILEY, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Yes, well, whilst the Osama bin Laden raid was deep inside the territory of a sovereign nation and required a great deal of stealth, once they got on the ground there, the commandos were relatively speaking unopposed.

That is not, would not have been the same in this other, mission one would assume. It was conducted, we, understand just inside Syrian territory, five or so kilometers, three to five miles perhaps, inside Syrian territory, close to the border with Turkey and the northwest of Syria, in an area that is frankly thick with different armed groups, not in that area any significant presence of the Syrian Democratic Forces, who have worked so loyally alongside the United States and others in the fight against ISIS but other groups that are opposed to the government Bashar al-Assad, a lot of them very extreme in their ideology and it is embedded in this environment that it would appear that the CIA were somehow able to track down Baghdadi and then not just track him down but then launch, in cooperation with the U.S. Special Forces, a very complex raid that eyewitnesses are beginning to tell, us that we have no full confirmation yet on this.

But it certainly involved aircraft, helicopters and also possibly the deployment of troops on the ground. And then of course, you have the process of battlefield assessment, as the military called it, what happened on the battlefield, you've got to get on to the ground.


KILEY: You've got to get samples so that you can find out the DNA trace to try to confirm whether or not the targets that were selected were actually taken out. All of that requires a high degree of precision and considerable daring, not just getting in but getting out again safely without loss of life.

We don't know if there are any casualties at all on this raid. Information is slowly emerging and we will hear, as they were saying more from Donald Trump later in the day but I think what is really important here as well is to bear in mind that whilst al-Baghdadi is dead, and Nick was alluding to this, the ideology of the so-called Islamic State still exists.

And the martyrdom death, as this would be portrayed, would traditionally be attached to mythology of the locals, smelling flowers and perfume rather than the gore and blood and smoke of reality. Part of the mythologizing process that will inevitably be exploited by what remains of the so-called Islamic State's propaganda wing to try to inspire people around the world to continue their bloody operations and strike back at Western targets and of, course try to inspire people to break out of those camps that are being monitored and policed by the Kurds, the allies of the United States and others in this fight, at a time when the U.S. is talking about sending more troops down to the oil field areas here, southern Syria, rather.

NEWTON: We were talking about this in the last few, days. Just for context, here I want to take you back to April and for a while, there U.S. authorities were unsure as to whether or not al-Baghdadi had been killed.

We know that perhaps he had been seriously injured and then in April we have that message to his followers, you know, basically saying to heed his call, to continue to fight for ISIS and the caliphate.

It was really a moment, wasn't it, for principally, the U.S. forces but forces all over the world but they're just the cusp of being able to say that ISIS was well and truly defeated, that the symbolic, leader their ideological head was still alive.

KILEY: Yes, well, what really led the brand advantage in the jihadi firmament over, for, example, Al Qaeda for the so-called Islamic State is that it was able, at least for a period of time, to control a lot of territory, to give the impression of being an actual entity, controlled ground, rather than the Al Qaeda model, which was to seed ideology worldwide rather than seek to control territory as such.

That gave it brand leadership, that attracted tens of thousands of volunteers and other followers around the world and inside Syria to join its ranks to participate in what in a rather twisted version they thought of as some kind of ultra Islamic utopia with the rules and regulations dating back to the very foundations of the religion.

Now none of it, of course, had any real endorsement from any serious theologians outside of its ranks but it did have this magnetic appeal. Then we had this April audiotape, which is much more a reflection really of the Al Qaeda way of doing things, with al-Baghdadi appealing to his people to break out of prison and try to reform but also to work in the underground, a kind of reminder really that we are not dead yet.

While the caliphate has been destroyed, the ideology that underpinned it lives on, really, essentially, was his message and that message will be someone undermined, now, obviously, by his reported death but it will not be definitive, because as I say, they will bend this victory for the United States over the ISIS leadership.

The other ISIS surviving members will bend it into a glorious martyrdom and try to use it now as part of the future ideological underpinnings, apart from everything else, suggesting that again, the ideology lives, on even when the caliphate is gone.

But remember that al-Baghdadi did do the kind of dramatic, almost heretical thing, which is to declare himself a caliph, a leader or the leader of the Islamic world, not even Osama bin Laden had the temerity to do that back in the day. I think that will inevitably be the sort of blow that ISIS will find pretty painful to have absorbed.

NEWTON: Absolutely and the fact that they did have a caliphate in terms of territory and it is absolutely banished, right, now I think obviously the leading question is whether or not this will be a rallying point, this that in terms of the militants we have talked to so many times, what remained those prisons or perhaps have slipped away and are in sleeper cells in both Syria and Iraq. Sam Kiley, I am glad you are there for us on the border. Stand by as

we bring in Josh Campbell, he is a former FBI counterterrorism agent.


NEWTON: He joins us now on the phone from Austin, Texas.

And, Josh, it is important for you to talk about materially what they would have needed in terms of CIA intelligence, because you and I both know they would have gotten intelligence like this many, many times before and either had to discount a raid or perhaps even attempted certain things and then decided the information they had was not enough to go on.

It is significant that at this moment in time they had that tip and said yes, Special Forces, commandoes will go in.

JOSH CAMPBELL, CNN LAW ENFORCEMENT ANALYST: Exactly, Paula, and you go back and look at the bin Laden model, this was obviously intelligence that the U.S. government had for quite a period of time.

They were looking at imagery, obviously other intelligence that led them to believe that this was possibly their high value target. Now what we don't know as it relates to al-Baghdadi is whether the intelligence was long in the, making, whether this was coming from a human informant, for example, that U.S. officials were able to vet and validate or whether this was information that may have come quickly that they had to act upon, that is information that we are still waiting to hear.

But nevertheless, as you mentioned, this would require a whole of government approach from U.S. government agencies, the intelligence community and obviously the Defense Department, the pointy end of the spear, so to, speak, to actually action that intelligence to try to take out the target or capture him.

One thing that is important to realize that although the pointy end of the spear, their work is apparently done now, among Special Operations forces, there is continuing threat that continues not only in the United States but also in Western countries that have been targets of attacks from ISIS and their sympathizers.

And that relates to the possible retaliatory attack. I can tell you as someone who's in the FBI tracking ISIS, to southeast, Asia the Middle East, to Europe in the United States.

After bin Laden was killed, the FBI stared at that set of factors and realized that the one thing they need to assure that did not happen was some kind of retaliatory attack inside the United States by sympathizers that were angry bin Laden had been killed.

As you and I speak right, now we can bet that the U.S. intelligence community as well as law enforcement are working right now to ensure that does not happen as it relates to possible ISIS sleeper cells in the U.S. and Western countries. NEWTON: And so important that you mention that because this is not a time to let your guard, down this will be a time of heightened alert, not just in the United States throughout Europe, Canada, Australia, in the Philippines, in parts of southern Russia, in many of those places where ISIS-inspired attacks have gone on previously.

You said something else though, Josh, which was interesting. You said a whole of government approach that will be needed to actually act on this kind of intelligence, I mean, to be polite about, it Josh, it is not something that the Trump administration has been known for.

Do you think that given the seriousness of the briefings, the complications, that in fact this is something that the national security team would've been able to work with Donald Trump and to have him understand that, no, you need all the briefings, you need to take all the advice before you give the go-ahead to this?

CAMPBELL: Yes, it's a great question. There are multiple layers here. The national command authority, which includes the president and obviously him being up to speed on the latest and current threat, but whether or not he digests or absorbs the information that's being provided, we can rest assured that the U.S. intelligence community and obviously the Defense Department that has jurisdiction around the world, that they are monitoring and tracking these threats.

And again, we don't actually know what the nexus was here, whether a human informant who came to the U.S. intelligence officials or a Western ally that said we know where Baghdadi might be?

Was this perhaps single intelligence?

Obviously the United States and our allies have a robust collection around the world that may have led them to the precise location of Baghdadi. We don't know that yet. And regardless of how the national command authority views the threat on the given day, the tactical operators are trying to find these high value individuals, it appears as though, based on the reporting that we are seeing, that this operation was launched in order to try to capture or kill the leader of ISIS.

But again, looking at the aftermath, that will be a second order effect obviously to identify whether he was in fact killed in this operation, which again looking at bin Laden you had officials from the CIA and the FBI collecting DNA, doing other types of analysis in order to ensure that they got their target.

That will be happening on the ground but now, backing up to this 30,000 foot view, the entire globe, our Western allies right now are without question on high alert, questioning whether or not ISIS sympathizers that might be in their countries are looking at this possible killing an ISIS leader and wondering if those who might subscribe to his beliefs right now might be trying to attempt some type of retaliatory attack.

This is not a one day story or one week story for U.S. intelligence and our Western allies around the world. [01:20:00]

CAMPBELL: This will remain a month multi pronged effort and multi pronged investigations underway in their areas and the responsibility to protect their people from any potential attacks.

NEWTON: Yes and important to remember that even as people have declared ISIS defeated over the last several months, that as you said, those authorities, national security authorities around the globe have their own suspects that they have 24 hour surveillance on in some cases and they will be on heightened alert at this moment.

Josh such great, perspective I really appreciate it. We want you right now to stay where you are as we continue to cover the breaking news, that a U.S. military raid has now believed to have killed the leader of ISIS. Stay here with CNN.




NEWTON: And we continue to follow major breaking news this hour in the fight against ISIS. Sources tell CNN that the leader of the terror group Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi is believed to have died in a U.S. military raid. Now a U.S. Defense official says al-Baghdadi apparently detonated a suicide vest during the operation.

A source tells CNN the raid was carried out by Special Operations commandos in northwest Syria and the location is significant and we will delve into that in the minutes to come.

Officials are now conducting DNA testing, of course, to confirm his death. Al-Baghdadi has been in hiding for the past five years; in 2014, as you see him there, he proclaimed an ISIS caliphate in a speech at the Great Mosque in Mosul, Iraq.

A U.S. official says president Donald Trump is expected to make an announcement on foreign policy in the coming hours and he did, in fact, already tweet, saying that something very big had happened.

I believe we are now going to Bob Baer, who is a former CIA operative and a CNN intelligence analyst.

Bob, it's interesting as we try and take this all in and the significance but I want to pick up with you as well on the heightened state of alert that a lot of countries, a lot of national security committees will be in right now as you and I both know the kind of sleeper cells, whether it's in Europe or the United States or Canada or elsewhere that authorities have under surveillance right now and will be worried about any kind of revenge attacks.

How valid is that worry? BOB BAER, CNN INTELLIGENCE AND SECURITY ANALYST: Well, Paula, I think it's very valid. They don't need sleeper cells, they don't need orders at this point to strike back.


BAER: If there is a cell in Paris or New York they understand that the death of Baghdadi is a trigger to launch an attack. A lot of these cells have been closed down over the years. But we all assumed there is more out there and there is some we don't even know about.

They can't close down and you can count on it this time in the United States, the FBI is going to be on high alert from right now, expecting some sort of retaliation.

NEWTON: Most definitely. I want to talk to you about the two things that we are distinguishing in ISIS here and one of them, of course, was the fact that it was a caliphate, it was a territory. And in that sense it was much different than Al Qaeda.

From the moment that we saw him speaking, we are seeing the video right now in 2014, when he made the speech with such hubris, could we have imagined that in, fact, the amount of territory that he and ISIS took in such a short amount of time, Bob, as you reflect on it now, it really caught the U.S. military off guard and also intelligence, right?

BAER: Well, it caught me off guard, I used to deal with Iraqi tribes. And I had never seen them in any case go this far radical cult group which the Islamic State was and especially to come out like this.

And what also struck me about it was it's not just hubris; the man was charismatic. Absolutely beautiful Arabic, educated. And for Sunni Muslims he was clearly a beacon. I don't think a lot of people understood how violent this was going to get and self defeating.

But he clearly had a political presence and his departure is going to set it way back. He was a political figure to be reckoned with and his death, in fact, if he's died, is going to be a significant event.

NEWTON: And Bob, I want to bring up something else. In terms of the media arm, we couldn't have known how potent and insidious it actually was. And I was always struck by how social media companies and media companies in general were playing catch-up all the time with these incredibly savage, visceral videos of violence that we hadn't seen, just play like a movie trailer over and over again on phones and computers.

BAER: The production value was incredible, clearly people had been trained in the West that understand television and also understand the audience because most of the recruiting for the Islamic State, especially in the West, is on the Internet.

And it was -- whether the attacks around Orlando or Riverside, it was on the Internet, these people are getting their instructions, their indoctrination rather than direct contact. They weren't doing this in mosques, they were doing it over the Internet.

This was a very modern movement, very medieval on one hand. But they clearly know what they were doing and the only way to defeat them was militarily and, of course, that comes back to the Kurds, who played such an important role opposing Baghdadi now.

And the reason that Baghdadi fled to the Idlib area was because of the Kurds, let's not forget that.

NEWTON: Yes and a good point to be made right now, as we think about -- we were just reporting that basically Turkey had said to Russia that if you can't get those Kurdish forces out of that buffer zone, that we will go in again.

And yet they, the Kurdish forces are directly responsible in making sure that al-Baghdadi wasn't hiding, remained in hiding in was very vulnerable in hiding to the kind of U.S. raid that we have seen in the last few hours.

BAER: Oh, absolutely. We just cannot forget, they defended themselves at first in Irbil but then they expanded and went after the Islamic State and it would still be the so-called caliphate if it weren't for the Kurds.

And frankly, we have to look at the Idlib area, it's very close to Incirlik base Turkey. In fact it's a Black Hawk flight away. If I were doing a raid I would do it out of that base because you can take these helicopters and take 10 of them and line them up and they only appear as one dot on radar.

You can get into Idlib or anywhere around there with a huge force, you can jam radar and there's nothing the Turks could do about it because you get them off the deck and flying close over the sea and get in.

So in fact going back to the Kurds, they put Baghdadi in a particularly vulnerable place which, once you get the intelligence -- and mind you, this intelligence isn't just a random report. You have to have fundamentally what they call eyes on the target.


BAER: Which means overhead coverage or even people in the area because they do not do this on a fragmentary report. It never happens. This operation has been in the works for a very long time and it's very thorough, as thorough as Abbottabad and they have to be able to neutralize all the forces in the area.

And to do that it takes considerable force.

NEWTON: Fascinating trying to insert ourselves into the briefings that Donald Trump had perhaps been getting in the last few days, perhaps, weeks about how they were homing in on any kind of intelligence there on the ground in northwest, Syria, an area many people were surprised, where they had this raid started and apparently now is over.

Bob Baer, you will continue to stay with, us appreciate your insights there.

I want you to stay with CNN as we continue to cover breaking. News the U.S. military raid has -- is believed to have killed the leader of ISIS.




NEWTON: We are following breaking news out of northwest Syria that ISIS leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi is believed to have been killed in a U.S. raid. Now a U.S. Defense official tells CNN that Baghdadi apparently detonated a suicide vast as U.S. Special Forces closed. And final conformation is pending the analysis and other identifiers of Baghdadi.

He has been hiding, we'll remind, you for five years since you saw him there in that video in Mosul and we are being told that locating him was based on CIA intelligence.

President Trump expected to make a major announcement on Sunday morning at 9:00 am. That is all we have been told, although the president telegraph earlier in a tweet saying, quote, "Something very big has just happened."

I want to bring in our Nick Paton Walsh who's been with us here, following what is a very momentous operation, obviously for U.S. Special Forces and again, how to underscore something like this, a, person a figure who came to symbolize absolute savagery over the last few years.


WALSH: Absolutely, something which in modern times we have never seen before, that kind of intimately disgusting brutality that ISIS like to deploy, when they executed Western hostages, when they burned alive Jordanian pilots, I, mean there was a horrifying video of the mass execution of Iraqi army recruits by a river, where the floor below decks was drenched in blood.

This is something we have never seen before but never had projected over social media with quite such explicit, unremitting detail that ISIS were able to harness. But still the death of Baghdadi, the man who called himself the caliph, the man who offered so much of that ISIS ideology, is a seismic moment for the Middle East, for U.S. foreign, policy the fact that their security apparatus was both able to withdraw from parts of Syria for the ISIS campaign but also achieve their most important goal simultaneously.

Here is a look at al-Baghdadi, the likely deceased leader of ISIS.


WALSH (voice-over): His face in public only once and even then in the presence of a small number. This is the moment at Friday prayers in a freshly conquered Mosul Abu Baker al-Baghdadi, creator of one of the most successful and inhuman terrorist networks in history chose to reveal himself.

Yet, before the infamy at this pulpit, he spent a decade rising quietly. A PhD student said to like football, these Pentagon records show, his capture by U.S. forces in 2004 near Fallujah, his hometown and held for years as a civilian internee at U.S. Camp Bucca. It was there, one expert who knew him, that he turned.

HISHAM HASHIMI, ISIS EXPERT (through translator): Al-Baghdadi was not cruel or radical at the time, he just wanted to fight the Americans. However, he leaned toward sectarian violence in Bucca at a school, where he met foreigners and some Iraqis who filled his head with such ideas.

WALSH (voice-over): The officer in charge of the camp remembers the last words of the man they released.

KENNETH KING, FORMER COMMANDER, CAMP BUCCA: As he was leaving -- and he knew my unit was from Long Island, New York -- he looked over toward us and as he left, he said, "See you guys in New York."

Here we are a few years hence and I look at those words in a little bit of a different context right now.

WALSH (voice-over): Then there is silence, a long stretch in the shadows of Iraq's savage civil war before hitting the Al Qaeda sanctions list in June 2011. Here as Abu Du'a, he led the Islamic State of Iraq, the Al Qaeda franchise in Iraq, whose previous leader, Zarqawi, the U.S. killed.

But as the U.S. left Iraq and the Arab Spring fell apart, the increasingly sectarian violence of Syria's civil war became a magnet for the bloodthirsty. Baghdadi, silently behind an ISIS brutality so extreme even Al Qaeda disowned it, leading the extremist groups to split in February of 2014 and months later, the group, to show its fighters breaking the borders of Syria and Iraq, declaring their caliphate.

With Baghdadi at its helm, claiming direct lineage from the Prophet Muhammad, the new caliph. This was Baghdadi's moment, the pinnacle of years of calculation and ISIS rose fast.

Then came the attack on and occupation of Mosul. The atrocities against the Yazidis in Mt. Sinjar, the beheadings of Western hostages, the besieging of Kobani, horrors marked by an obscene worship of violence.

WALSH: In all these, Baghdadi is invisible, yet doubtless the key decision-maker. But one of the more terrifying things about the ISIS he helped create is not its obsession with gruesomely videoing acts of murder but, instead, its harnessing of social media to create a global franchise amongst people it had often never met -- in Libya, Afghanistan, Paris, Brussels, atrocities committed by people who were attracted to ISIS' brand to commit atrocities and even die for it. WALSH (voice-over): But in November 2014, rumors of an airstrike

hitting him and then, within a week, a recording of his florid speech.


WALSH (voice-over): It became a pattern: no public appearances mixed with randomly released audio statements. U.S. officials told CNN that they believe he was injured in May 2017 and had to take five months away from his leadership duties as a result.

Yet from that moment onwards, what was left of ISIS' so-called caliphate collapsed in on itself. Mosul, freed from their grip in July, Raqqa that October.


WALSH (voice-over): ISIS reduced to a tiny slip of land on the Iraqi and Syrian border and an idea, infectious, hateful, still capable of inspiring barbaric insanity, yet now without its figurehead, a man willing to lead his followers to death but only from the shadows.


WALSH: And we still don't know really how that death fully occurred, a death to some degree in the shadows, that is why he chose to hide still. And one I am sure the forensic detail which will be poked over, questions have to be answered as to whether or not U.S. Special Forces put a ground force on the ground, there highly likely they would had to have done that, the precise location seemed increasingly likely.

We're talking about Idlib province and quite how Baghdadi came, it, seems to go from running his own self declared caliphate under the franchise of ISIS to hiding in Al Qaeda territory in Syria, indeed it seems to be where he was in Idlib.

And a remarkable insight we may get as to how jihadists in that area were able to provide succor or shelter, if indeed that was the, case to the competing strands of jihadi ideology of ISIS.

And more detail will surely emerged in the hours, ahead. It will be interesting to see how Donald Trump chooses to frame this. Important to remember that the bulk of the work, putting in the infrastructure, here chasing down Baghdadi, isolating him to the point where he had no territory to freely roam anymore, was done on the previous administration.

And yet still, despite the confusing signals from president Donald Trump, who back in December of last year tried to leave Syria, according to his own Secretary of Defense, , to resign as a result, did try to leave Syria at a point this year and then seems to have agreed to send troops back in to protect the strategically pointless objective of the oil fields of Syria.

Still, this has occurred regardless of the conflicting orders of the U.S. commander in chief and a remarkable moment for the U.S. security apparatus, that they were able to, at this complex time of constantly changing geopolitical signals, still kill, it seems, the man who was their number one target.

That should surely send a signal to jihadist groups. But as you were hearing from Bob Baer there as well, I'm sure globally now there is a sort of red alert to some degree to be sure that ISIS cells waiting for the death of Baghdadi are not able to achieve something.

We don't want to overblow but too much because obviously there's not been that much rationality in the behavior of ISIS' cells around the world, to some degree, who seemed to act at times of opportunity but still most, I am sure most will be concerned in various agencies in Europe and beyond, to be sure that nothing occurs in the week ahead or, so.

But still a remarkable moment for the Middle East, for U.S. foreign policy, for those other coalition allies who assisted in the fight against ISIS and lost people in it as well, a man who preached hate, who managed to take the most disenfranchised, most impoverished, most heavily suffering parts of the Middle East, the Sunni Syrians and Iraqis, to congeal behind him into this sort of hateful caliphate of a twisted vision of Islam, is, now it seems deceased.

NEWTON: Nick, it is with a shudder that we listen to that U.S. official saying that report, that Baghdadi said to, him I will see you in New York and that is why there will be some trepidation, of, course relief in cities right around the, world.

And even October 2017 we had an ISIS-inspired attack with a truck that I believe killed eight people at the time. This is something that has impacted people right around the world and unfortunately may continue to.

Nick Paton Walsh there for us in northern Iraq, we will continue to stand by and bring us more breaking news as we get it, as we continue to cover, a U.S. military raid now that is believed to have killed the leader of ISIS.





NEWTON: Thanks for joining us. We want to remind you of a major development we continue to follow this hour in the fight against ISIS. Sources tell CNN that Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, the leader of the terror, group is believed to have died in a U.S. military raid.

Now Defense officials say that al-Baghdadi apparently detonated a suicide vest during the operation, which happened in northwest Syria. A source said Special Operations commandos carried out the raid. Al- Baghdadi has been in hiding for the past five years. In 2014, he proclaimed an ISIS caliphate during a speech at the Great

Mosque in Mosul, Iraq. President Donald Trump is expected to make a major announcement in the coming hours, that is what we have been told.

An administration official would only say that the speech, that the speech he is about to deliver would be in fact foreign policy related. But he did then say and tweeted out that something really big has just happened.

We want to go now to our Ben Wedeman.

And Ben, really, when you think about your experience there in the spring, 50, days you watched the last dying days, hours of ISIS as they tried to hang on. I, mean what are you thinking now, as we seem to have U.S. officials confirming to CNN that they believe al-Baghdadi is now dead?

BEN WEDEMAN, CNN SR. INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Yes, this is significant but I have been thinking about what does all this mean. And when we were interviewing, we interviewed dozens of ISIS fighters who surrendered, dozens of ISIS wives, even some of their children, what struck me at the time was, very few of them spoke about Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi.

They stressed repeatedly that their loyalty was to the Islamic State; unlike, for, instance bin Laden, who was something of a cult figure in Al Qaeda, Baghdadi was not charismatic, was not seen as the embodiment of the Islamic State. He was seen as sort of the head of it, so you did not have that cult of personality.

And sort of along the same lines, Paula, for instance, Osama bin Laden, his fame goes back to the 1980s when he was a leader of the so- called Arab Mujahidin against the Soviet occupation of Afghanistan. He was a well known figure going back decades, whereas Abu Bakr al- Baghdadi, when he first appeared on the minaret in the mosque in Mosul in July 2014, announcing the establishment of the caliphate, he was an unknown, not only sort of in the broader global sense but even within Iraq itself.

He was an unknown figure. So yes, the United States has removed the figurehead of the Islamic State but we know that the Islamic State continues to operate in Iraq and Syria, within Egypt's Sinai Peninsula, in West Africa, in Afghanistan, in the Philippines.


WEDEMAN: And it's highly unlikely that with the disappearance of Baghdadi, that ISIS is going to disappear.

NEWTON: We will leave it there for now. It will be important to get your perspective in the coming hours, 50 days, front-row seat as ISIS tried to hold on to their caliphate. All of those people that still believe in their very savage, brutal ideology. Ben Wedeman, we'll come back to you.

Please stay with CNN as we cover the breaking news. A military raid is believed to have killed the leader of ISIS.




NEWTON: Our breaking news this hour, al-Baghdadi is believed to have died in a U.S. military raid. A U.S. Defense official says Baghdadi apparently detonated a suicide vest during the operation.

A source familiar with the raid said it has carried out a Special Operations commandos in northwest Syria. Officials, as you can imagine, are conducting DNA testing to confirm it is al-Baghdadi. And in the coming hours Donald Trump will make an announcement. All we are hearing is that it will be policy-related. Josh Rogin joins me on the phone.

Josh, the political implications not lost on anyone, least of all is the president.

JOSH ROGIN, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: We can expect Trump to celebrate if confirmed the death of Baghdadi and to credit the U.S. Special Operations forces for a mission that I was told by sources, was long planned and meticulously planned for several months.

And if successful, marks the netting of a very high-value target. But it's impossible to ignore that this victory comes in the midst of a Trump administration Syria policy, in the middle of a drastic change, many would say for the worse.


ROGIN: And President Trump has faced criticism for the last few weeks, going back and forth, withdrawing U.S. troops from northeast Syria. That's come with disdain and humiliation of U.S. forces, especially operators who have been working to fight ISIS.

While we can celebrate the justice that may have been brought to Baghdadi, it remains that ISIS is still on the rise in Syria. Still perpetrating attacks. We have 14,000 to 18,000 fighters according to the Pentagon. Another 70,000 family members, internally displaced in the camps.

We have to ask the U.S. government, what is the plan for dealing with the massive organization that Baghdadi leaves behind?

NEWTON: Interesting, Josh, you are reporting this was long-planned. More questions than there are answers, what the president was thanking in terms of backing out of Syria, taking friendly fire from Lindsey Graham, saying what are you doing?

Josh Rogin from "The Washington Post" appreciate your reporting.

You are watching CNN breaking news coverage, of what U.S. officials believe to be the killing of ISIS leader al-Baghdadi. I'm Paula Newton. Don't go anywhere. We'll be right back with special coverage of our breaking news here, in a moment.