ISIL chief is dead but threat of his group remains, leaders and analysts warn, as speculation over next leader begins.
The Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL or ISIS) group leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi‘s underwear was obtained by an undercover source and DNA-tested to prove his identity before an operation by US forces to kill him, an adviser to the Syrian Democratic Forces said.
Polat Can, a senior consultant to the Kurdish-led SDF militia, gave details on Twitter on Monday about how SDF intelligence work helped locate al-Baghdadi.
“Our own source, who had been able to reach al-Baghdadi, brought al-Baghdadi’s underwear to conduct a DNA test and make sure [100 percent] that the person in question was al-Baghdadi himself,” Can said.
3 – Our own source, who had been able to reach Al Baghdadi, brought Al Baghdadi’s underwear to conduct a DNA test and make sure (100%) that the person in question was Al Baghdadi himself.
— بولات جان Polat Can (@PolatCanRojava) October 28, 2019
US President Donald Trump has said the Kurds provided some information “helpful” to the operation went after the ISIL leader.
Can said the SDF had been working since May 15 with the CIA to track al-Baghdadi, and managed to confirm he moved from Deir Az Zor in eastern Syria to Idlib province, where he was killed on Saturday.
Al-Baghdadi was about to change locations to the Syrian town of Jarablus when the US commando operation happened, he said.
“All intelligence and access to al-Baghdadi as well as the identification of his place were the result of our own work. Our intelligence source was involved in sending coordinates, directing the airdrop, participating in and making the operation a success until the last minute,” Can said.
— Al Jazeera English (@AJEnglish) October 28, 2019
The United States gave al-Baghdadi’s remains a burial at sea and afforded him religious rites according to Islamic custom, three US officials told Reuters news agency.
Al-Baghdadi – who rose from obscurity to declare himself “caliph” of all Muslims as ISIL’s leader, died by detonating a suicide vest after fleeing into a dead-end tunnel as elite American special forces closed in, according to the US government.
The US officials, who spoke on condition of anonymity, did not disclose where the religious ritual was performed or how long it lasted. Two officials said they believed his remains were delivered to the sea from an aircraft.
US Army General Mark Milley, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, told a news briefing on Monday the US military disposed of al-Baghdadi’s remains “appropriately in accordance with our [standard operating procedures] and in accordance with the law of armed conflict”.
Given the gruesome nature of al-Baghdadi’s death, it was unlikely the US military followed as complete a process as it did after Navy SEALs killed al-Qaeda founder Osama bin Laden in a 2011 raid in Pakistan.
In the case of bin Laden, his body was transported to the aircraft carrier USS Carl Vinson. It was washed before being covered in a white sheet, and religious remarks translated into Arabic were read over bin Laden’s corpse.
Bin Laden’s burial at sea triggered mixed reactions, with a prominent imam saying the US violated Islamic custom by not burying bin Laden on land, a move seen as a US attempt to prevent his resting place from becoming a shrine for followers.
In the US, some questioned why the man believed responsible for the September 11, 2001, attacks that killed nearly 3,000 people was laid to rest with such respect.
Milley did not enter into details about any of al-Baghdadi’s last rites. He said that before the disposal of his remains, they had been transported to a secure facility to confirm his identity with forensic DNA testing.
“It’s been done and is complete,” Milley said.
‘Right-hand man’ killed
The US also confirmed the killing of Abu al-Hassan al-Muhajir, ISIL spokesman and a high-ranking figure in the armed group, in a separate US operation.
On Sunday, the Syrian Kurdish YPG militia said al-Muhajir was killed in a joint raid between Kurdish-led and US forces in northern Syria.
SDF commander Mazloum Abdi said it was “a continuation of the previous operation” in which al-Baghdadi was killed. Mazloum described al-Muhajir as al-Baghdadi’s right-hand man.
Al-Muhajir was killed in the Syrian town of Jarablus in Aleppo province, said the US official, speaking to reporters on condition of anonymity.
The operation that led to “the demise of his [al-Baghdadi’s] number two or one of his number twos” was also carried out by US forces, the official said, adding the SDF had a big role in it.
ISIL has not declared a successor as leader. The group has in the past proved resilient, continuing to mount or inspire attacks in the region and beyond despite losing most of its territory in recent years.