US commandos zeroed in on Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi’s final hideout with the help of an extraordinarily well-placed informant, an ISIS operative who facilitated the terrorist leader’s movements around Syria and even helped oversee construction work on his Syrian safe house, according to US and Middle East-based officials knowledgeable about the operation.
The mole’s detailed knowledge of Baghdadi’s whereabouts, as well as the room-by-room layout of his sanctuary, proved to be critical in the October 26 raid that ended with the death of the world’s most-wanted terrorist, the officials said.
The informant was present during the assault on Baghdadi’s compound in the Syrian province of Idlib, and he was exfiltrated from the region two days later with his family. The man, whose nationality had not been revealed, is expected to receive some or all of the $25 million US bounty that had been placed on Baghdadi’s head, according to the officials. One official said he was a Sunni Arab who turned against the ISIS because one of his relatives had been killed by the group.
The ISIS defector had been cultivated as an asset by the Syrian Democratic Forces, the predominantly Kurdish militia that became the ground troops for the US-led campaign to destroy the terrorist group’s self-proclaimed caliphate in eastern Syria. SDF leaders then handed control of the agent to US intelligence operatives, who spent weeks vetting him until they were sure he was genuine, the officials said.