Reminding the dog pursuit of erstwhile al Qaeda chief Osama bin Laden in Pakistan's Peshawar neghborhood in May 2011 before sending marines to kill him overnight, the long hunt for Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, began in February 2018 when US-trained Iraqi intelligence teams secured a break.
Reminiscent of the operation conducted against al Qaeda chief Osama bin Laden on the night of May 2, 2011 by United States Navy SEALs inside a hideout compound in Abbottabad, where he lived with a local family from Waziristan, Baghdadi too was pursued in a deadend tunnel till he reportedly killed himself detonating his vest. Ironic but both incidents preceded the upcoming presidential elections for the incumbent in the White House, in 2011 for Barack Obama and this time for Donald Trump.
It was a doctor in Pakistan who gave out the path to the hideout of Osama bin Laden and this time, one of the Islamic State leader's top aides gave the Iraqis details on how the ISIS chief and erstwhile al Qaeda member conducts his meetings to escape surveillance for so many years, said two Iraqi security officials in an exclusive to Reuters.
Baghdadi used to hold strategy talks with his commanders in moving minibuses which are packed with vegetables, revealed Ismael al-Ethawi, a close aide who was first arrested by Turkish authorities and then handed over to the Iraqis.
"Ethawi gave valuable information which helped the Iraqi multi-security agencies team complete the missing pieces of the puzzle of Baghdadi's movements," said one of the Iraqi security officials. "Ethawi gave us details on five men whom were meeting Baghdadi inside Syria," he told Reuters.
The man who imposed a reign of terror across Syria and Iraq, carrying out mass executions and beheadings was responsible for some gruesome attacks on innocent civilians and children in the name of his ultra-fanatic version of Islam.
Ethawi, who holds a Ph.D. in Islamic Studies, was one of the leader's top five aides, who was an al Qaeda member since 2006 and was arrested by US forces in 2008, After a four-year jail experience, he joined Baghdadi to be entrusted with the selection of Islamic State commanders. When the group largely collapsed in 2017, Ethawi fled to Syria with his Syrian wife.
It was the capture of five more aides of Baghdadi, four Iraqis and one Syrian, early this year in a joint operation by US, Turkish and Iraqi intelligence agents gave the exact locations where they were meeting Baghdadi inside Syria. It was this time, Iraqi officials sought CIA help to conduct these operations, according to Reuters.
In mid-2019, Ethawi was located in Idlib area, moving from village to village with his family and three close aides and informants spotted him wearing a checkered headdress in an Idlib marketplace with the help of a photograph, the official said. When followed him, they reached the hideout where Baghdadi was staying.
"We passed the details to the CIA and they used a satellite and drones to watch the location for the past five months," the official said. On October 25, Baghdadi left the location with his family for the first time, traveling by minibus to a nearby village. "And that was his last moment to live," the official told Reuters.
In a televised address from the White House, President Donald Trump said on Sunday that the Islamic State leader died alongside three of his children after fleeing into a dead-end tunnel during the attack. Trump said Baghdadi detonated an explosives-laden vest and killed himself there.
(With inputs from Reuters)