Donald Trump described the death of Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, the shadowy leader of so-called Islamic State, in lurid detail during an astonishing press conference where the US president made series of unlikely claims.
Trump gave a 10-minute prepared speech followed by around 40 minutes of answering questions from reporters as he gave an account of the airborne raid by American special operations forces in Syria’s north-western Idlib province.
During the session, he praised “a talented” military dog injured in the raid and claimed he predicted the attack on the World Trade Center.
1. Described death in graphic terms
Trump appeared to hint at the news in a cryptic tweet, saying on Saturday night without elaboration that “something very big just happened”.
Of his tweet, Trump said on Sunday that he “sent that right after I knew” US troops had “landed safely” in a “very friendly” country after the raid.
He didn’t spare any detail in his description of the killing, stating at the news conference that the ISIS leader “died after running into a dead-end tunnel, whimpering, crying, and screaming all the way”.
As US forces closed in on him, Baghdadi detonated a suicide vest, killing himself and three of his young children, Trump said.
“He died like a dog,” Trump said. “He died like a coward.”
On if he could hear al-Baghdadi crying on his feed of the raid: “I don’t want to talk about it. He was screaming, crying, and whimpering. He was scared out of his mind.”
2. ‘It was like watching a movie’
Trump watched the operation unfold from the Situation Room, and the White House later on Sunday released photos of Trump with senior politicians, advisers and military leaders facing the direction of the camera and appearing to watch the raid.
“The US personnel were incredible,” Trump said. “I got to watch a bunch of it.”
Trump added that his view from the Situation Room was “as though you were watching a movie”.
“When we landed with eight helicopters, a large crew of brilliant fighters ran out of those helicopters and blew holes into the side of the building, not wanting to go through the main door because that was booby-trapped. It was something really amazing to see. I got to watch it along with the general, Vice President Pence, and others, in the Situation Room. We watched it so clearly. I don’t want to say how, but (it was) as though you are watching a movie.”
There is also a suggestion the Situation Room photo was “staged” after Pete Souza, the White House photographer for Presidents Obama and Reagan, pointed out that the time stamp on the picture did not match up with the reported time of the raid.
“The raid, as reported, took place at 3:30PM Washington time. The photo, as shown in the camera IPTC data, was taken at ’17:05:24,’” Souza remarked on Twitter on Sunday.
3. Boasts about his internet skills
Trump bragged about how good he is at using the internet during the press conference.
He acknowledged ISIS is “very smart” and “they are technically brilliant”, adding: “They use the internet better than almost anybody in the world, perhaps other than Donald Trump.”
4. Did not tell other congressional leaders
Trump said he informed some Republican members of Congress on Sunday morning about Baghdadi’s death, but acknowledged that he did not alert congressional leadership of the planned raid ahead of its execution.
“There is no country in the world that leaks like we do. Washington is a leaking machine,” Trump said, claiming a leak “could have caused the death of all of them”.
Democrat Adam Schiff, the chairman of the House Intelligence Committee, applauded Baghdadi’s demise but said Trump made a “mistake” by not giving him and the rest of the ‘Gang of Eight’ ― a bipartisan group of congressional leaders ― a heads-up beforehand.
5. Praises the ‘beautiful dog’ injured
American military dogs chased Baghdadi to the end of a tunnel, where he was “whimpering and crying and screaming all the way,” Trump said.
Trump said many ISIS fighters were killed but no US personnel suffered injuries in the operation ― save for one military dog that followed Baghdadi into the tunnel and was wounded.
“A ‘canine’, as they call it. I call it a dog. A beautiful dog — a talented dog was injured and brought back,” Trump said in tribute.
6. Claimed al-Baghdadi’s death was bigger than Bin Laden’s
Trump claimed the raid was a bigger deal than the 2011 killing of al Qaeda founder Osama bin Laden during the Obama administration.
“This is the worst ever,” the president offered. “Osama bin Laden was very big but Osama bin Laden became big with the World Trade Center. This is a man who built a whole — as he would like to call it — a country, a caliphate. And was trying to do it again.”
7. Plugged his book
Trump went on to suggest he had predicted bin Laden’s attack on the World Trade Center in a book published in 2000.
“You know, if you read my book, there was a book just before the World Trade Center came down. And I don’t get any credit for this but that’s OK. I never do. But here we are. I wrote a book, a really very successful book and in that book about a year before the World Trade Center was blown up, I said there is somebody named Osama bin Laden, you better kill him or take him out, something to that effect, he’s big trouble.”
Trump has made the claim before. According to AP, Trump’s book, ‘The America We Deserve’, did not predict the attacks and only mentions bin Laden as an al-Qaeda leader and one of many threats to US security.