SAS forces are on a “kill or capture” mission hunting down the world’s most wanted terror mastermind, Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, the Mirror reported.
The troopers have joined up with American Special Forces, intensifying their search for the Islamic State leader following the bomb attacks on churches and hotels in Sri Lanka, which killed 253 people, including eight Britons.
Intelligence agencies fear evil Baghdadi’s network could inspire more atrocities across the West, including in Britain.
Colonel Richard Kemp, former adviser to the Government on terrorism, said: “Baghdadi is one of the most evil men in history and inspires his followers in the Middle East and around the world to acts of the most medieval barbarity.
“We need to get him urgently to stop his poisonous message encouraging global violence, including savage attacks in Britain like we saw at the Manchester Arena in 2017.”
There is a bounty of around £20million on Baghdadi, who once ruled parts of Syria and Iraq and sparked global atrocities.
He taunted Western forces with his “bin Laden-style” message to followers, filmed with an AK47 assault rifle by his side. In the film, he laid claim to the Sri Lanka bloodshed last month.
Baghdadi is thought to be hiding in the desert badlands of Iraq’s Al Anbar Province, west of the capital Baghdad.
A former Western intelligence officer said: “Al-Baghdadi is a very important figurehead for Islamic State and getting him is a very high priority. His leadership of Daesh has been punctuated with some of the vilest act of violence against human beings by terrorists.
“It would be good to capture him, but this may be unlikely given some of the areas he is thought to be hiding as they are almost no-go areas for western troops.
“Al Anbar is considered a fairly likely place for him to be, as well as some of the villages near Mosul, where he once ruled with ferocity.”
The search for the 47- year-old Islamic State leader also involves MI6, UK listening station GCHQ and the American National Security Agency.
First they have to find him in the most hostile of Iraq’s towns and villages.
Around 30 SAS and Special Boat Service troops are involved in the hunt, led from a special forces HQ north of Baghdad.
Iraq’s “Golden Division” special forces are also involved, helping to secure areas when search missions are called in.
RAF drones launched from a base in Kuwait, and flown by “Reaper squadron” pilots based at RAF Waddington, in Lincolnshire, are being deployed on 12-hour surveillance missions.
The drones are armed with four Hellfire missiles which can be fired remotely once a target is identified. Drones patrolling Al Anbar and Mosul Provinces are searching for cars being driven by al-Baghdadi’s brother or driver.
Hundreds of IS fighters are now trying to reach northern and western Iraq after Coalition and Syrian Democratic Force troops finally smashed the remains of the caliphate in Syria.
Recently, RAF Typhoon jets, based in Cyprus, bombed a network of caves where IS fighters were holed up north of Tikrit and east of Bayji.
A senior source said: “The border between Syria and Turkey has been sealed, which has forced those who could escape to head for Iraq.
“Everyone knew this time would come, when IS was beaten militarily, but we also knew their leaders might go to ground and try to spark revenge attacks globally. Nobody wants to allow Baghdadi to spit out hate-filled messages and a lot of people are on the mission to stop him.
“It is not known where al-Baghdadi is, but every suspicious movement on the ground is being monitored and, even though he is the most careful of the high-value targets, he will make a mistake.
“They always make a mistake in the end – and then he will be either trapped or killed.”
The Ministry of Defence said it did not comment on Special Forces missions.