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Al-Baghdadi buried at sea as Trump's 'whimpering' jibe doubted

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Airstrike: A destroyed truck at the spot where Isil spokesman Abu Hassan al-Muhajir was reportedly killed. Photo: AFP via Getty Images

Airstrike: A destroyed truck at the spot where Isil spokesman Abu Hassan al-Muhajir was reportedly killed. Photo: AFP via Getty Images

AFP via Getty Images

Airstrike: A destroyed truck at the spot where Isil spokesman Abu Hassan al-Muhajir was reportedly killed. Photo: AFP via Getty Images

The remains of Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi were quickly disposed of at sea hours after he blew himself up during a US special forces raid on his compound in north-west Syria.

General Mark Milley, chairman of the US joint chiefs of staff, confirmed the world's most wanted terrorist was buried within 24 hours of his death, according to Islamic tradition, and was afforded religious rites.

Speaking at the Pentagon, he said: "His remains were disposed of appropriately in accordance with the law of armed conflict."

The main US priority was to avoid creating an identifiable burial site that could become a shrine for Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (Isil).

Defence officials indicated they had followed the same protocol as with the body of Osama bin Laden, who was also buried at sea after he was killed in a raid in Abbottabad, Pakistan, in 2011.

Gen Milley said two men had been captured alive from the compound where Baghdadi was hiding in the village of Barisha.

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Martyr fear: The US did not want burial site for Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi. Photo: Reuters

Martyr fear: The US did not want burial site for Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi. Photo: Reuters

REUTERS

Martyr fear: The US did not want burial site for Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi. Photo: Reuters

He said videos made during the raid would be released in coming days, once declassified of anything that could betray operational details.

That came after some military and intelligence officials cast doubt on the vivid description of the raid given by Donald Trump, who watched it from the White House situation room. The US president's description of the closing moments of the raid included that Baghdadi was "whimpering and crying" before he detonated a suicide vest in a dead-end tunnel.

The officials suggested there would not have been any audio on the footage being watched in the situation room, nor any images from inside the tunnel.

Defence secretary Mark Esper, who was seated next to Mr Trump in an official photograph taken in the situation room during the raid, said he had not heard "whimpering". He said: "I don't have those details. The president probably had the opportunity to talk to the commanders on the ground."

Gen Milley added: "I know the president had planned to talk down to the unit members. I assume it was talking directly to unit members. I have not talked to the unit members down at that level."

The video is believed to include aerial footage, and possibly footage from cameras mounted on the soldiers who stormed Baghdadi's compound.

Mr Trump said: "We're thinking about it. We may take certain parts of it and release it."

The US operation was named after Kayla Mueller, the American aid worker who died while being held hostage by Baghdadi. Her parents praised Mr Trump's "decisiveness" and criticised Barack Obama's handling of their daughter's captivity. Marsha Mueller, Kayla's mother, said: "I still say Kayla should be here, and if Obama had been as decisive as President Trump, maybe she would have been.

"I just want to say how grateful we are to this administration, to the military, and to the special forces that went in."

Preparations for Bin Laden's burial lasted nearly an hour, his body was washed before being covered in a white sheet, and religious remarks in Arabic were read over his corpse on board the USS Carl Vinson.

Asked if the same format would have applied to Baghdadi, Mr Esper said: "I would expect that to be the case."

The decision to bury Bin Laden at sea in 2011 sparked a backlash amid claims from some imams that the US had violated Islamic custom by not burying him on land.

Hours after the raid on Baghdadi's hideout on Sunday, the US killed Isil's spokesman in an airstrike in a second major blow to the terror group.

Abu Hassan al-Muhajir was targeted in the village of Ain al-Baydah near Jarablus in northern Syria, as the US-led coalition against Isil hunted down its leaders.

Local sources said Muhajir, described as Baghdadi's right-hand man, had been travelling in a convoy. Video and pictures believed to be from the scene show a charred corpse inside a metal box.

Mazloum Abdi, the commander of the Kurdish-led Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF), said his group passed on intelligence about the location of Muhajir to its coalition allies.

SDF officials questioned how top Isil figures had gone undetected by Turkey so close to its territory. Jarablus is administered by Turkish-backed forces which captured the city during the Euphrates Shield offensive in 2017.

Baghdadi was discovered in a compound in an area controlled by Syrian rebels, three miles from the Turkish border.

Mustafa Bali, the SDF's spokesman, said his fighters believed Muhajir was in Jarablus to facilitate Baghdadi's travels to the area.

"The two US-led operations have effectively disabled top Isil leadership who were hiding," he said. "But more remain hiding in the area."

Little is known about Muhajir, who assumed the role of a spokesman after his predecessor was killed in an airstrike in 2016. He is not believed to have been Syrian or Iraqi due to his nom de guerre identifying him as "al-Muhajir" meaning "the emigrant".

His killing "makes Baghdadi's death a lot more complicated for the organisation," said Hassan Hassan, director of the non-state actors programme at the Centre for Global Policy in Washington.

It is likely to prove a further disruption to Isil, though not necessarily a fatal one. The group has proved able to adapt quickly to the loss of top-tier leaders. The jihadist group as of last night was yet to make an official announcement on Baghdadi's death, nor had it named a successor.

Hisham al-Hashemi, an Iraqi expert on Isil, said two potential candidates stood out: Abu Othman al-Tunsi and Abu Saleh al-Juzrawi, who is also known as Hajj Abdullah.

The former is a Tunisian who heads Isil's Shura Council, a legislative and consultative body. The latter is a Saudi who runs the jihadist group's Delegated Committee, an executive body.

Telegraph.co.uk