Near Barisha. In the middle of the night, Abu Ahmed heard how soldiers who spoke “a foreign language” attacked a house right next to his, in the middle of the olive fields in northwestern Syria.
Abu Ahmed now wonders what the activities of his discreet neighbor were, who presented himself as a "food merchant," but who could have hidden the head of the jihadist group Islamic State in his home.
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It is in this area of northwestern Syria where the head of the Islamic State, Abu Bakr al Baghdadi, died during a US military operation, according to the announcement of US President Donald Trump.
When midnight helicopters flew over the town of Barisha, Abu Ahmed was quietly at home, he tells AFP. This 50-year-old man heard gunshots a dozen meters later.
“Someone was heard speaking in Arabic, which said Abu Abu Mohamed surrender!’, ”He says. "Later, soldiers spoke in a foreign language," he continues.
The operation lasted about three hours and ended with an aerial bombardment, witnesses say.
This Sunday morning, the house of Abu Mohamed was nothing more than a pile of white stones, cement and scrap.
The area was cordoned off by the armed combatants of Hayat Tahrir al Sham (HTS), the former Syrian branch of Al Qaeda that still controls the Idlib province.
– "We just greeted each other" –
Journalists were authorized to briefly access the attacked area. From the top of the rubble you can see the deformed structure of a car and the burned remains of a motorcycle, trapped between electric cables.
Around, among the olive groves there are precarious stores installed by those displaced from the Syrian conflict.
The small village attacked was occupied by Abu Mohamed, a discreet man who probably welcomed Al Bahgdadi into his house, which no one seemed to have noticed.
This mysterious Abu Mohamed said he was a displaced person from the neighboring province of Aleppo and was living off the food and livestock trade.
"With this man we only greeted each other," says Abu Ahmed, a displaced native of the central province of Homs. “We are intrinsically sociable people. We were saying ‘come home’, but it didn't come, ”he continues.
Every day, he says, his taciturn neighbor left early in the morning and returned late at night. No woman or children were ever seen in the house.
Another neighbor, Ahmed Mohamed, arrived at the scene of the attack as soon as he could. His house is about 500 meters away and he says that, during the night, he saw two planes flying over the sector at a very low height -15 meters.
He also heard gunfire and then missile shots, he says.
AFP.- “Kidnapped” –
While confirming the US attack in Syria, President Trump indicated that the head of the Islamic State died by detonating an explosive "vest."
A "large number" of Islamic State fighters died in the attack, he said.
Early Sunday, Abdel Hamid, another inhabitant of Barisha, was able to access the ruined house before the place was cordoned off.
"There were six bodies in the house, nobody knows who they are," he describes.
"A car passed by chance, and it was hit, there were two dead inside," adds this 23-year-old man.
After chatting with the neighbors, Abdel Hamid realized that Abu Mohamed and another person had disappeared, apparently "kidnapped" by the assailants.
"People say that (the assailants) took the owner of the house and with him another person," he says.