ISIS leader al-Baghdadi confirmed dead after apparent suicide during U.S. operation

ISIS leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi is dead, sources have confirmed to Fox News.

Al-Baghdadi, who took over ISIS after his predecessor Abu Omar al-Baghdadi was killed in 2010, detonated a suicide vest, killing himself when U.S. Special Operations forces entered a compound in northern Syria where he was located, according to a U.S. defense official. No U.S. Special Operations forces were hurt or killed in the raid.

ISIS LEADER CALLS FOR 'CALIPHATE SOLDIERS' TO FREE DETAINEES FROM CAMPS, CONTINUE ATTACKS

“U.S. forces did a terrific job,” a U.S. military source told Fox News.“This just shows it may take time, but terrorists will not find a sanctuary.” The same source told Fox News that biometric tests confirmed that it was indeed Baghdadi.

The compound was located near the Turkish border in northwest Syria’s Idlib Province, a known terrorist stronghold that has served as a home to groups linked to al-Qaeda. Al-Baghdadi had long been suspected to be hiding in the Idlib Province.

Mazloum Adbi, General Commander of the Kurdish-led Syrian Democratic Forces, touted a “historical operation” in a tweet Sunday morning, crediting “joint intelligence work with the United States of America.”

Regarding Mazloum’s claim of Kurdish assistance in the operation, a U.S. military source simply told Fox News, “the Kurds have always been good partners.”

President Trump is scheduled to speak Sunday morning at 9:00 a.m. ET, when he is expected to discuss the operation. Saturday night, he simply tweeted, "Something very big has just happened!"
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Al-Baghdadi reportedly had a $25 million bounty on his head.

Earlier this year, Iraqi intelligence officials speaking to Fox News maintained he was lurking in Syrian border towns, often wearing non-traditional or “regular” clothes, using a civilian car, and making sure anyone around him had no mobile phones or electronic devices in order to bypass detection.

Some experts had predicted that as time passed and ISIS losses in the Middle East mounted, it was inevitable that al-Baghdadi would be captured or killed.

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Rebels withdraw from key Syrian town as pro-Assad troops advance

Insurgent groups have withdrawn from Khan Sheikhun in north-west Syria, clearing the way for pro-government forces to enter the town, in a milestone moment in the war for Idlib province, the country’s last major rebel stronghold.

The development came hours after Turkey deployed tanks and armoured cars deep into Syria, partly in response to days of advances by forces fighting on behalf of the Syrian leader, Bashar al-Assad.

Khan Sheikhun has been a key target in a military campaign launched in late April. The campaign had stalled until recent days, despite relentless Russian-led airstrikes that had decimated communities in southern Idlib and led up to 500,000 people to flee their homes.

Insurgents, spearheaded by the al-Qaida-linked extremist group Hayat Tahrir al-Sham (HTS), have led the defence of the town. According to an HTS statement on Tuesday, the group made “a redeployment” with its fighters withdrawing to areas south of the town. From there, they would continue to defend the territory, it said.

Extremist groups have blended with other anti-Assad fighters throughout Idlib and dominate parts of the province. Their presence has been used as a pretext by Russia and Syria to recapture all of north-western Syria, where up to 3 million people have taken refuge.

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Idlib has become the last redoubt of those who rose up against the Syrian dictator during the Arab revolts of 2011. As Syria’s towns and cities have been pummelled and the regime – heavily backed by Iran and Russia – has clawed back early losses, displaced populations from all corners of the country have ended up in the north-west province.

Winning back Idlib has become a primary goal of the Syrian leader and Russia – also to a lesser extent, Iran, which has committed troops and proxies extensively elsewhere in the war.

Turkey has insisted that it would not let the province fall militarily. To do so would inevitably send tens of thousands of refugees towards its borders at a time when Turkish authorities have been rounding up and deporting Syrian citizens in Istanbul and cities closer to the border.

A convoy of Turkish military vehicles passes through Maaret al-Numan in Idlib reportedly heading toward Khan Sheikhun.A convoy of Turkish military vehicles passes through Maaret al-Numan in Idlib reportedly heading toward Khan Sheikhun. Photograph: Omar Haj Kadour/AFP/Getty Images

Khan Sheikhun has become a focal point of the fight for Idlib because of its position on a main highway linking Idlib city with Hama to the south. The town was home to about one million people, nearly 700,000 of them displaced by fighting in other parts of the country, before the government offensive began in April. In recent days hundreds of civilians remained in the town.

In April 2017, a sarin attack struck the centre of the town, killing 92 and maiming more than 200 people. The Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons and a UN investigation blamed a Syrian regime jet for the strike. Donald Trump ordered the bombing of the base that the jet took off from in retaliation.

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‘Unacceptable’ to lump Iran together with ISIS as Middle East’s ‘chief security threat’ – Moscow

It’s wrong to label Iran as the main threat to the Middle East, Russia’s senior security official warned, while stressing that data produced by Washington is not enough to blame the Iranians for recent tanker attacks.

“Iran was and remains our ally and partner,” Secretary of Russia’s Security Council, Nikolai Patrushev, said on Tuesday.

In that sense, any attempts to portray Tehran as the chief threat to regional security, let alone lump it together with ISIS and other terrorist organizations, are unacceptable to us.

The senior official made his remarks in Jerusalem following a meeting with President Donald Trump’s national security adviser, John Bolton, and his Israeli counterpart, Meir Ben-Shabbat, both of whom clashed with the Russians over their views on Iran.

The US has been blaming Tehran for attacking two oil tankers in the Gulf of Oman on June 13 (which Iran denies), and announced new sanctions in response to Iran downing a US drone they say violated their airspace last week.

Also on rt.com ‘Dialogue at gunpoint’: Bolton says Iran’s ‘silence’ is DEAFENING while it’s actually pretty vocal...

Bolton accused the Islamic Republic of a “round of violent provocations” abroad, including “threatening global oil supplies.” Iran is “a source of belligerence and aggression in the Middle East,” he said. The same stance was voiced by Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who said that Iran had “intensified” attacks on Tel Aviv and Washington.

As evidence of the alleged Iranian involvement in the attacks on the tanker, the Pentagon shared a grainy video of what it said were Iranian sailors removing a malfunctioning limpet mine from the ship’s hull. Nikolai Patrushev dismissed the footage as “low-grade information” that in itself “doesn’t allow for any decisions to be made.”

There must be an objective investigation, and not just pinning the blame on anybody, but actually figuring out what happened.

Moscow has long called for all sides to show restraint and have a level-headed approach to the conflict, without threats and sanctions. Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov said that the new round of restrictions by the US on Iran “sends a signal that the situation is moving towards a very bad scenario.”

Lavrov said that the current situation “reminds” him of early 2003, when the US tried to build a case for invading Iraq. Back then, Washington claimed that Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein was stockpiling weapons of mass destruction, which was proven false post-invasion.

We all remember how that ended.

 

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Syria in Last 24 Hours: Army Preparing for Major Battle in Idlib

TEHRAN (FNA)- The Damascus Army dispatched fresh military convoys to Northern Hama to further reinvigorate its forces for massive operations against the terrorists in Idlib province amid militants' continued attacks from the demilitarized zone in Northern Syria.

"The Syrian Army has dispatched new convoys to Southern Idlib and Northern Hama to be prepared for imminent military operations in Northern Syria," the Arabic-language website of Sputnik reported.

Meantime, the Syrian army continued its military advances in other parts of Syria over past 24 hours.

Tens of terrorists were killed and dozens more were injured during the Syrian army's operations in provinces across Syria.

Hama-Idlib

The Syrian army sent new military convoys to Northern Hama to further reinvigorate its forces for massive operations against the terrorists in Idlib province amid the militants' continued attacks from the demilitarized zone in Northern Syria.

The Arabic-language website of Sputnik reported on Wednesday that the Syrian army has dispatched fresh convoys to Southern Idlib and Northern Hama to be prepared for imminent military operations in Northern Syria.

It added that extensive military equipment has been sent to the Northern fronts of Hama to Sahl al-Qab region in Northwestern Hama.

Meantime, a military source said that the terrorists launch repeated attacks from the demilitarized zone on safe zones and military positions, adding that cleansing operations in the region should be prioritized.

Tahrir al-Sham al-Hay'at (the Levant Liberation Board or the Al-Nusra Front) terrorists targeted the town of Salhab and Mahradeh in Northern Hama by heavy rocket attacks which were responded by the artillery and airstrikes of the Syrian army against their positions and movements in the towns of al-Latamineh, Kafr Zita, Kafr Naboudeh, Rasm al-Ahmar, al-Hawijeh, Qalat al-Maziq, al-Sakhar and al-Sahriyeh in Northern and Northwestern Hama.

The attacks destroyed several hideouts, vehicles and military equipment of the terrorists and killed and wounded a large number of them.

Aleppo

Reports from local media said nearly two dozen Turkish soldiers have been killed and wounded in heavy clashes with the Kurds in Northwestern Aleppo.

The Kurdish-language Hawar news reported on Thursday that the so-called 'Afrin Liberation Forces' targeted two armored vehicles of the Turkish army in the village of Qatmeh in Shara region in Afrin on April 30, killing 7 Turkish soldiers, wounding 5 others and destroying their vehicles.

It added that another group of Turkish soldiers were trapped and engaged in clashes with the Kurds in regions near Qatmeh, noting that 6 Turkish military men were wounded.

Also, 2 Turkish military commanders were killed and 3 others were severely wounded in operations launched by 'Afrin Liberation Forces' against a Turkish army vehicle on the road linking Shara region to the town of A'azaz in Northwestern Aleppo.

Reports from Afrin and A'azaz regions in Northern Aleppo said that heavy clashes had erupted between the Kurdish fighters and the Turkish army and its affiliated militants in the past two days, adding that the Turkish army has pounded the Kurdish positions in Northern Aleppo with artillery fire.

Eastern Euphrates

Over 900 trucks carrying new US military and logistical aid have been sent to the regions occupied by the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) in Eastern Syria after Washington's declaration of the ISIL collapse, media reports said.

The London-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights (SOHR) reported on Thursday that the US coalition has only in a recent case sent nearly 65 trucks loaded with weapons and military equipment from Iraq to the SDF-occupied areas in Eastern Euphrates.

It added that a least 945 trucks carrying military equipment have entered Eastern Syria after the US and Washington-backed SDF declared the end of ISIL rule over the region.

Damascus-Quneitra

The Syrian army found a large cache of weapons, including US and Israeli missiles as well as West-made arms, during cleanup operations in areas formerly held by the terrorists in Southern Syria.

The engineering units of the Syrian army discovered underground weapons caches during purging operations in the towns and villages of Southern Syria.

A military source said that they found several US TOW missiles, Israeli LAV missiles, shoulder-launched missiles, US-made M-16 guns, West-made sniper guns, machine-guns and tens of thousands of rounds of ammunition, artilleries, mortars, TNT and advanced goggles.

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Islamic State Group Begin to Surrender Last Territory in Syria

Thousands of people, including armed Islamic State Group members, have surrendered to U.S.-backed Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF), in eastern Syria.

In a report from Al Jazeera, thousands of people, including armed fighters, have left the last area held by ISIL in Syria, a spokesperson for the US-backed Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) said.

RELATED: Islamic State Group Faces Final Defeat by Kurdish-Led Force

Mostafa Bali of the SDF tweeted that about 3,000 people had come out of the village of Baghouz in eastern Syria on Monday through a humanitarian corridor established by the Kurdish-led group for those who choose to leave or surrender.

Bali said among those who left was a large number of fighters of the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL or ISIS) group who "surrendered to our forces."

According to a report from Reuters, "around 200 Islamic State members surrendered in Baghouz after a ferocious battle at the weekend, but around 1,000 may still be holding out, a spokesman for the U.S.-backed Syrian force battling them said on Monday."

This came after the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) launched air strikes against the Islamic State Group in central Syria, the pro-Damascus al-Watan newspaper reported on Tuesday.

According to TeleSUR, the Islamic State Group have been using "guerilla-warfare tactics" for four years, while the U.S.-led coalition (SDF) described them as the "most-hardened militants."

AlJazeera reported that suspected fighters were moved to detention facilities for where they will be investigated.

Slowing down the offensive in yesterday, we managed to evacuate about 3.000 ppl from ISIS pocket through the corridor we opened. A large number of Daesh jihadists surrendered to our forces among the same group overnight.

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Archaeologists restore ancient Palmyra artifacts in Damascus museum

DAMASCUS (Reuters) - In the National Museum of Damascus, archaeologist Muntajab Youssef works on an ancient stone bust from Palmyra, one of hundreds of artifacts his team is painstakingly restoring after they were damaged by Islamic State.

Centuries-old statues and sculptures were wrecked by the jihadists when they twice seized control of the old city in central Syria during the country’s war, which will go into its ninth year in March.

The 1,800-year-old bust of a bejeweled and richly clothed woman, The Beauty of Palmyra, was damaged during the first offensive on the city by Islamic State fighters in 2015.

After Syrian government forces took back the city with Russian military support in March 2016, the bust, alongside other damaged ancient monuments, was taken to Damascus and archived in boxes. When restoration work on it began last year, Youssef said it was in pieces.

“The hands and face were lost completely, also parts of the dress and there are areas that are weaker,” Youssef, who has been working on the bust for two months, said.

Youssef is one of 12 archaeologists working on the arduous restoration job, which first began with the of moving the damaged pieces to Damascus.

Mamoun Abdulkarim, the former Head of Syrian Antiquities, said that in some cases broken artifacts were transported in empty ammunition boxes provided by the Syrian army in Palmyra.

How many artifacts there are in total is difficult to say, given the state they were found in.

The lack of documentation for the artifacts also adds to the restoration challenge.

“A big part of the documentation in the Palmyra museum, was damaged with the antiquities and computers,” archaeologist Raed Abbas said.

“A statue needs pictures ... in order to be rebuilt.”

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Nearly Half a Million Displaced People Return to Syrian Province

Damascus, Aug 18 (Prensa Latina) Nearly half a million displaced persons have returned to their houses in the Syrian province of Deir Ezzor since the beginning of this year, today confirmed local administration sources.

The number of citizens who returned to their homes in the province reached 489,531 from the beginning of 2018, which shows a total number of residents of up to 1,37,000 people, according to the latest statistics.

After the Syrian army restored security in most of the province's countryside and secured thousands of kilometers of main roads to other regions, the first sector that was rehabilitated was transport.

Likewise, work was carried out on the resumption of the operations of offices for civil affairs, banks, post offices, fire stations and municipal councils, in parallel with the start of work to eliminate debris, repair streets and infrastructure in general, including water services and electricity.

The director of the Deir Ezzor Health Department Abdul Najem al-Obeid said that 26 medical centers and two medical centers were opened, as well as hospitals that provide services to citizens, which include equipment, general supplies, ambulances and mobile clinics.

The sources indicated that the food, scarce under the blockade imposed by the terrorists of the Islamic State (Daesh) for almost three years, was guaranteed a few days after breaking the siege through convoys and prices fell and returned to normal levels. They also stated that several institutions and departments of services are working to complete the rehabilitation of the infrastructure of different sectors in Deir Ezzor within the context of a work program integrated by all the society's forces.

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ISIS Suicide Blasts Kill More Than 220 Dead In Southern Syria

Beirut, Lebanon: A string of suicide blasts and raids claimed by the ISIS killed more than 220 people in southern Syria on Wednesday, in one of the terrorist group's deadliest ever assaults in the country.

The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said the attacks hit several areas of the largely government-held southern province of Sweida, where ISIS retains a presence in a northeastern desert region.

The bloodshed came almost a week into a Russia-backed regime campaign to oust ISIS fighters from a holdout in a neighbouring province of the country's south.

ISIS claimed responsibility for the violence, saying "soldiers of the caliphate" attacked Syrian government positions and security outposts in Sweida city, then detonated explosive belts.

The Britain-based Observatory said four suicide bombers targeted Sweida city while others hit small villages to the north and east and shot residents in their homes.  

At least 221 people were killed, including 127 civilians, the Observatory said.

The remaining 94 dead were pro-regime fighters, mostly residents who took up arms to defend their homes, it said.

The overwhelming majority of the dead "were in (Sweida's) northern countryside, where the bodies of civilians executed inside their homes were found," Observatory head Rami Abdel Rahman told AFP.

Sweida, whose residents are mostly from the Druze minority, has been relatively insulated from the war that has ravaged the rest of the country since 2011.

"It's the bloodiest death toll in Sweida province since the start of the war" and one of the deadliest ever IS attacks in Syria, the Observatory chief said.

He said regime forces eventually ousted ISIS from several villages its fighters had seized and put an end to the attacks.

"Some residents who fled the attacks on their villages are returning and finding people dead in their homes," Abdel Rahman said.

At least 38 ISIS fighters were also killed, including the suicide attackers.

Abandoned Shoes

State media confirmed the attacks had killed and wounded people in Sweida city and villages to the north and east but did not give a specific toll.

"Today's crime shows that countries supporting terrorism are trying to breathe life back into the terrorist organisation to keep it as a card in their hand that they will use to achieve political gains," Syrian President Bashar al-Assad as he received Russia's envoy to Syria Alexander Lavrentiev.

"These attempts will only succeed in... shedding more innocent blood," he added, in comments carried on his social media accounts.

Omar, a resident of Sweida city, told AFP explosions began rocking the city around 5:30 am local time.

"The blast was sudden and unexpected. Never in its history has Sweida seen such a tough day," he told AFP.

State news agency SANA published images from the city of the attack's aftermath, showing a victim's remains sprawled on a staircase near a damaged wall.

Abandoned shoes lay in the middle of the road among fruit that had spilt out of cartons.

An eyewitness said Sweida's national hospital was "packed".

He said he saw "people bringing in a lot of wounded in their own private cars.. Others were coming to the hospital to ask if loved ones they had lost track of were there".

The UN's humanitarian coordinator in Syria Ali al-Zaatari condemned the "terrorist bombing in Sweida city", saying all civilians should be protected.

Government ally Russia said the IS attacks "confirm the need for energetic and coordinated efforts by the international community to eradicate this universal evil from Syrian territory".

Pro-government forces ousted ISIS from urban centres in eastern Syria last year, but ISIS raids in recent months have killed dozens of regime and allied fighters.

The terrorists still hold some territory in Syria's south, including in Sweida and another isolated but larger patch in neighbouring Daraa province, to the west.

That pocket is held by Jaish Khaled bin al-Walid, a jihadist faction whose 1,000 fighters have pledged allegiance to ISIS.

After ousting mainstream rebels from most of the south, Assad's troops backed by his Russian allies are now closing in on the ISIS pocket in Daraa.


SANA said the attacks on Sweida were an attempt to relieve pressure "on ISIS remnants facing their inevitable end in the western Daraa countryside".

Desert Holdouts

On Wednesday, Russia-backed regime forces pressed their heavy bombardment of ISIS territory in Daraa.

At least 41 civilians have been killed in air strikes on the jihadist holdout since July 19, while clashes have killed 49 regime fighters and 67 terrorists, says the Observatory.

Last month, Assad's forces launched a lightning assault that battered rebel areas in the south and brought most of Daraa province under his control.

They then moved on to Quneitra, the neighbouring province which borders the Israeli-annexed Golan Heights.

On Tuesday, a Syrian military source accused Israel of firing at one of its warplanes as it carried out operations against jihadists in Quneitra.

Israel's army on Tuesday said it had shot down a Syrian fighter jet that had infiltrated Israeli airspace, risking another escalation around the sensitive buffer zone.

The Damascus regime has long accused Israel of backing ISIS, which overran large parts of Syria and neighbouring Iraq in 2014 but has since lost most of that territory.

More than 350,000 people have been killed and millions displaced since Syria's war started in 2011 with the brutal repression of anti-government protests.

 

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