US special forces have killed ISIS leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, the world’s most wanted terrorist, according to unconfirmed US reports.
Newsweek is reporting that US President Donald Trump approved the mission nearly a week before it took place and tweeted “Something very big has happened!” at 12.23pm (AEST) on Sunday.
Mr Trump is scheduled to make a major announcement on Sunday at 9am (midnight AEST).
Senior Pentagon officials 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.”
According to unconfirmed reports, Baghdadi detonated a suicide vest when he realised he was cornered.
A US 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” the high-value target killed was Baghdadi, but further verification is pending”, the report states.
Something very big has just happened!
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) October 27, 2019
The killing of Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi would be a huge PR coup for the US President as he faces criticism for withdrawing from Syria, a move that has split the Republican Party.
In September, ISIS released a new message from the extremist group leader calling for supporters to free terrorists held in refugee detention camps and prisons.
“The prisons, the prisons, soldiers of the caliphate!” Baghdadi said.
“Do your utmost to rescue your brothers and sisters and break down the walls that imprison them,” he added in the message distributed by the Telegram app.
There are 66 Australian women and children held in Syria who are fighting to return to Australia.
Baghdadi’s only public appearance as the leader of Islamic State was in July 2014, when he spoke at the Great Mosque in Mosul and declared a Caliphate.
According to the US State Department, he is a Specially Designated Global Terrorist and “responsible for the deaths of thousands of civilians in the Middle East, including the brutal murder of numerous civilian hostages from Japan, the United Kingdom and the United States”.
US authorities have also accused him of repeatedly raping an American, Kayla Mueller, who ISIS later alleged was killed in a Jordanian airstrike.
After he fled Iraq, US intelligence believed he was based in the Syrian town of Ar Raqqa.
CNN is reporting the CIA was involved in locating the ISIS leader, who was reportedly found in a raid in north-west Syria on Saturday.
The terrorist leader, who has remained in hiding for five years, has been the subject of multiple reports asserting he had been injured or even killed during that period.
In February, the Guardian reported that Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi survived a coup attempt in a village near Hajin in the Euphrates valley.
The last claimed sighting was in April, when a video was published by the ISIS media wing, al-Furqan, claiming to show he was alive.
Last year, US officials said Baghdadi had been wounded in a May 2017 airstrike that forced him to hand control of ISIS to others because of his injuries.