When he began to ad-lib about what happened near Idlib, Syria, he treated the world to his usual blend of braggadocio and bluster — dishonest and distasteful in equal measure.
Footage of the U.S. special forces’ raid reportedly consisted of overhead surveillance footage and no audio, prompting questions over the extent of the dramatic license taken by Trump in describing the final moments of one of the most wanted terrorists in the world.
U.S. officials who also watched the feed have declined to echo details of Trump’s macabre account of the Daesh leader’s death on Saturday, including that Baghdadi was "whimpering, crying and screaming all the way”.
Reveling in a major national security accomplishment in his press conference on Sunday morning, Trump said Baghdadi, 48, had "spent his last moments in utter fear, in total panic and dread” as a U.S. military dog pursued him and three of his children down a dead-end tunnel.
Trump could not possibly have heard "whimpering and crying” on the overhead imagery because there was no audio, and Pentagon chief Mark Esper and Gen. Mark Milley, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, pointedly refused to confirm those details.
Most likely Trump made up the vivid details about Baghdadi’s alleged last moments, just as he made up his claim that he alone called for action against Osama bin Laden prior to 9/11.
Russia was the first side in the war theater in the region to express doubts about Trump’s announcement that Baghdadi was killed in a "daring night-time raid” in northwest Syria. Trump went on to thank Russia, Turkey, Syria and Iraq for their support.
"We are unaware of any alleged assistance to U.S. aircraft using the airspace of the Idlib de-escalation zone during this operation” concerning the "umpteenth death” of Baghdadi, Major-General Igor Konashenkov told state-run RIA news agency.
Konashenkov referred to the previous claims that al-Baghdadi had been killed. He described the latest raid as "yet another ‘elimination’ of the Daesh leader in the Turkish-controlled part of the Idlib de-escalation zone.”
Moscow said that there was no credible evidence to prove that such a raid took place, especially as there hasn’t been any airstrikes in Idlib province recently, where the raid is said to have taken place.
The statement from the Russian Ministry of Defense also cast doubt on the claim that al-Baghdadi was actually in Idlib. The town is held by Hayat Tahrir al-Sham, formerly known as the Nusra Front, an al-Qaeda branch in Syria which was a fierce rival of al-Baghdadi’s Daesh.
Russia believes the announcements by Trump are simply propaganda. "Trump has elections coming up next year,” explained Russian state TV correspondent in the U.S. Denis Davydov to Rossiya-24. "This announcement about al-Baghdadi’s liquidation will add some points for the (U.S.) Commander-in-Chief.”
UN spokesperson Farhan Haq also said the United Nations cannot verify the credibility of the U.S. claims, adding such information has to be confirmed by the various authorities on the ground.
"We cannot personally verify the accuracy of this,” Haq said referring to the announcement of al-Baghdadi’s death.
Adding to doubts was the announcement by U.S. officials on Monday that Baghdadi’s body was buried at sea.
A Pentagon official claimed Baghdadi's body was dumped into the sea at an unnamed location, similar to the 2011 sea burial of bin Laden after he was allegedly killed in a U.S. special forces raid in Pakistan.
An unnamed source was quoted as saying he "brought al-Baghdadi's underwear to conduct a DNA test and make sure (100%) that the person in question was al-Baghdadi himself."
The U.S. added another dramatic turn to the story, claiming that a dog chased Baghdadi into a tunnel and cornered him before he detonated his suicide vest.