Maine’s congressional delegation on Sunday called a weekend U.S. commando raid that resulted in the death of Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi a “major blow” to the Islamic State group.
The shadowy leader of the terrorist organization that shocked the world with its brutal violence and the speed with which it conquered a swath of territory across Iraq and Syria in 2014 detonated an explosive vest as U.S. commandos cornered him in a tunnel during the Saturday raid in northwestern Syria, killing himself and three of his children, President Donald Trump said Sunday in televised remarks.
The leader of Kurdish-led Syrian Democratic Forces said Monday that the SDF, in cooperation with the U.S. military, killed al-Baghdadi’s aide, Abu Hassan al-Muhajir, in a village near Jarablus in northwestern Syria the next day, according to the Associated Press.
U.S. Sen. Susan Collins, a Republican who sits on the Senate Intelligence Committee, called the death of al-Baghdadi a “major blow” to the Islamic State group.
“The successful operation against Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, announced by the President, is a testament to the tremendous skill and bravery of the men and women in our nation’s armed forces,” Collins said, adding a note of caution that terrorist groups such as the Islamic State and al-Qaida have proved resilient and saying it is “imperative to keep working with our allies to counter this threat.”
U.S. Sen. Angus King, an independent who caucuses with Democrats and sits on the Senate Intelligence and Armed Services committees, said that the death of the terrorist group’s leader, whom he called a “murderous extremist,” leaves the world a “safer place.”
King praised American commandos involved in the nighttime raid, calling the cooperation with allies in the Middle East and use of intelligence gathering a “model for America’s war against terror.”
But King also struck a note of caution, saying that while al-Baghdadi is dead, “his hateful, abhorrent ideology survives.”
“We must remain vigilant in our efforts to defend our nation, and committed to advancing a strategic foreign policy that blocks ISIS from gaining a new foothold from which it can plan attacks upon America and our allies and partners,” King said, using an acronym to refer to the Islamic State group.
U.S. Rep. Chellie Pingree, a Democrat from Maine’s 1st Congressional District, called the death of al-Baghdadi a “victory for people worldwide who are threatened by the violence of ISIS.”
Pingree praised military personnel who participated in the raid and called on the U.S. to keep “our focus on the goal of diminishing ISIS and combating violent extremism while also promoting our policies to support allies and address grave humanitarian challenges.”
U.S. Rep. Jared Golden, a Democrat from Maine’s 2nd Congressional District and a veteran of military operations in Afghanistan and Iraq, said in a pair of tweets Sunday afternoon that the death of al-Baghdadi will “weaken ISIS, but the organization itself remains a threat to Americans abroad and at home. We must remain committed to improving our strategies and tactics to meet the ongoing threat from terrorist groups that target the U.S.”
In 2013, al-Baghdadi announced that his organization merged with al-Qaida’s affiliate in Syria, forming the Islamic State group. The group quickly overran a swath of territory across Iraq and Syria in early 2014, eventually capturing Iraq’s second-largest city, Mosul, in June. He was soon after named the “caliph” of the captured territory and made his first public appearance, delivering a Friday sermon in Mosul’s historic al-Nuri Mosque on July 4, according to an Associated Press timeline.
But a U.S.-led coalition that included Iraqi and Kurdish forces pushed back against the Islamic State, eroding its territory until March 2019, when the Syrian Democratic Forces in northern Syria declared that a “ total elimination” of the terrorist group’s so-called caliphate after taking its last stronghold in Baghuz, according to the BBC.
Al-Baghdadi had been rumored to have died from injuries in an airstrike in August 2018 before he resurfaced in a recording speech urging his followers to keep up the fight and to wage lone-wolf attacks in the West. In a video that surfaced earlier this year, al-Baghdadi acknowledged defeat in the terrorist group’s last stronghold in Syria but vowed a “long battle” ahead.