US officials have announced that two adult males were taken captive during a raid in northwest Syria that led to the death of Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, the leader of the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL or ISIS) group.
Addressing reporters alongside US Defense Secretary Mark Esper on Monday, Mark Milley, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, said the individuals were now in “our custody and … in a secure facility”.
He did not provide any details on the captives’ identities.
US President Donald Trump said on Sunday that al-Baghdadi had died during a military operation in the village of Barisha in Syria’s Idlib province carried out by US special forces the previous evening.
Trump said the ISIL leader had killed himself and three of his children by detonating an explosive vest after running into a dead-end tunnel beneath his compound as US forces closed in on him. No US personnel were killed in the operation but one service dog was hurt by the explosion.
“The disposal of his [al-Baghdadi’s] remains has been done and is complete and was handled appropriately,” Milley told the briefing in the Pentagon, adding that Washington had no plans to release photos or videos of his death at this time.
A US official told Reuters news agency that al-Baghdadi had been given a burial at sea and afforded religious rites according to Islamic custom. The official, who spoke on condition of anonymity, did not disclose further details, including how or where the ritual was performed.
Citing unnamed Pentagon sources, AFP news agency also reported al-Baghdadi’s body was disposed of at sea.
Al Jazeera’s Kimberley Halkett, reporting from Washington, DC, meanwhile said the briefing had provided a “more substantive update” on the operation against the ISIL leader after Trump had done a “victory lap” over the 48-year-old’s death.
Al-Baghdadi had long been a target for the US and regional security forces trying to eliminate ISIL even after the armed group was pushed out of the vast swathes of territory it once held across Iraq and Syria.
Esper, for his part, said al-Baghdadi’s death had deprived ISIL of its “inspirational leader”, but warned the security situation in Syria “remains complex”.
He added that US troops were in position to retain control of key oil fields in Syria’s northeast in a bid to deny ISIL access to them.