The Footage of the US special forces raid on Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi’s Syrian compound reportedly consisted of overhead surveillance footage and no audio, prompting questions over the extent of the dramatic licence taken by Donald Trump in describing the final moments of one of the most wanted terrorists in the world.
US officials who also watched the feed have declined to echo details of Trump’s macabre account of the Isis’s leader death on Saturday, including that Baghdadi was “whimpering, crying and screaming all the way”.
Revelling 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 US military dog pursued him and three of his children down a dead-end tunnel.
Cornered, Baghdadi detonated his suicide vest, killing himself, his children and injuring the “beautiful” and “talented” dog, Trump said.
The White House monitored the Syria operation through video feeds that Trump said was “as though you were watching a movie”.
The footage piped into the situation room would have consisted of overhead surveillance shots of the dark compound with heat signatures differentiating between US fighters and others, intelligence and military officials told the New York Times.
Those cameras would not have been able to peer into the tunnel where Baghdadi died, nor provide audio proof of his conduct during the last minutes of his life.
The soldiers involved would have been wearing body cameras, but that footage was yet to be given to the White House at the time of Trump’s press conference, the Times report said.
The US defence secretary, Mark Esper, declined to endorse aspects of Trump’s cinematic account in an interview with ABC’s This Week programme on Sunday morning.
“I don’t have those details,” Esper said, when pressed on how Trump knew Baghdadi had whimpered and cried. “The president probably had the opportunity to talk to commanders on the ground.”
The US national security adviser, Robert O’Brien, told the Meet the Press show that Baghdadi’s remains, which were said to have been mutilated by the explosion, would likely be disposed of at sea.
Asked if the body would be handled in the same way as Osama bin Laden’s, O’Brien said: “I would expect that to be the case.”
Kurdish officials claimed on Sunday night that a second US operation had taken place in Syria a few hours after Baghadi’s death, this time targeting the Islamic State spokesman, known as Abu Hassan al-Muhajir.
“Al-Muhajir, the right-hand of Baghdadi and the spokesman for IS, was targeted in the village of Ain al-Baydah near Jarablus, in a coordinated operation between SDF intelligence and the US army,” the Syrian Democratic Forces commander, Mazloum Abdi, tweeted.
American officials did not confirm the reports and it was unclear if the operation was pre-planned, or enabled by the material found in Baghdadi’s compound.
Trump said US fighters collected highly sensitive material and information, including on Isis’s future plans, before they left Baghdadi’s compound.
Muhajir issued his last statement in March, calling for retaliation for the mass shooting of 50 worshippers at a mosque in the New Zealand city of Christchurch by an Australian white nationalist.