The eight American stealth helicopters, carrying Delta Force and Navy Seals, came in fast and low over the olive trees in Barisha, a village of a few thousand people in Idlib province near the Turkish border.
In the darkness around midnight they were fired on from the ground but quickly obliterated the source, before soldiers rappelled to the ground near the compound housing Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, the world’s most wanted terrorist.
Watching in the Situation Room at the White House Donald Trump was flanked by Vice President Mike Pence, chairman of the joint chiefs of staff Mark Milley, national security adviser Robert O’Brien, military generals and CIA officials. Mr Trump said it was “as though watching a movie.”
The CIA had been tracking Baghdadi, 48, for a couple of weeks after getting information on his whereabouts from sources in Iraq.
A senior Iraqi official told the Telegraph they had obtained details on Baghdadi’s location from members of his inner circle, who were arrested in Iraq in September.
The official said: “We arrested one of Baghdadi’s wives, his nephew, and the wife of one of Baghdadi’s couriers.”
The Telegraph understands the courier’s wife led them to a location in the desert of al-Qaim, on the Iraqi side of the Syria-Iraq border, where Baghdadi was thought to have been hiding out after the fall of the Islamic State caliphate.
At the site they found two barrels full of personal items, including medicine, and documents with coordinates of the terrorist leader’s location in Idlib written down.
As the US began tracking him there were several false starts as Baghdadi headed for locations in or near Barisha, but changed his mind at the last minute.
Finally convinced he was in the compound, Mr Trump gave the order.
To get to Barisha the US helicopters had to fly for one hour and 10 minutes through dangerous areas of northern Syria controlled by Russia and Turkey.
Both nations were informed in advance that the US would be operating, but not why.
For commanders it was considered perhaps the riskiest part of the mission.
After landing successfully, Seals set up a perimeter and Delta Force approached the compound wall.
The intelligence had been so detailed that they knew the main gate was booby-trapped. Instead, they blew holes in several locations along the wall before going in.
They also attacked a car outside which, it is believed, may have been part of an escape attempt.
According to Mr Trump’s account there was a last stand by some of Baghdadi’s closest cadre inside the compound. Some of them were “cold-blooded killers,” others were like “frightened puppies”.
Half a dozen terrorists were killed, with no US dead or injured. As they cleared the compound the US forces found two of Baghdadi’s wives, wearing suicide vests, dead. They had not detonated and it was not clear if they were killed in a firefight or took their own lives.
The US forces removed 11 children to safety away from the compound.
The last moments of Islamic State leader
The intelligence had also included that there was a series of tunnels under the compound. One of those tunnels was believed to be an open-ended escape route to the outside, and a unit of US forces were stationed there to prevent Baghdadi getting away.
Baghdadi instead fled down one of the dead-end tunnels, taking three children with him.
US dogs led the chase, followed by soldiers, down the tunnel. Cornered, Baghdadi detonated the suicide vest he was wearing, killing himself and the three children.
Mr Trump said: “He was whimpering and crying and screaming all the way. He died like a dog. He died like a coward.” The US president added that it was the “judgment of God”.
The explosion caused the tunnel roof to collapse on top of Baghdadi and the children.
One of the US dogs was injured, but no soldiers were. Baghdadi’s body parts were quickly uncovered from the debris and removed from the tunnel.
Isil Rise and fall of a caliphate
A DNA test was carried out on site 15 minutes later and the result was positive.
Meanwhile, US teams combed the compound and found records relating to both the origins and future of Isil.
The entire raid was swift, with the US forces only in the compound for about two hours.
After the helicopters took off the compound was hit by an air strike to prevent it from becoming a shrine to the terrorist leader.
Baghdadi’s presence in Idlib, the last-remaining anti-Assad opposition stronghold, came as a surprise to some as the province is under the control of rebel groups hostile to Isil.
Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi | read more
Abu Ahmad, 55, who lives next to the compound, said he had repeatedly tried and failed to befriend his discreet neighbour, the owner of the compound, who was a merchant from the province of Aleppo.
In the middle of the night he was woken in the night by the sound of soldiers “speaking a foreign language”. He heard them calling for his neighbour to give himself up.
Abdel Hameed, another resident, said he saw six bodies inside the house, and two more in the car outside following the raid. Ahmed Mohammad, who lives nearby, said he was the internet provider for the owner of the compound, and visited regularly.
He said: “I have known this man personally for two years. He is a merchant. I did not have the impression that he was anything but a civilian.” Barry McCaffrey, a retired four-star US Army general, said: “It was flawless. The fact we had no casualties is astonishing.”