ISIS leader killed in US Special Operations raid in Syria, Biden says
Abu Ibrahim al-Hashimi al-Qurayshi was killed in what witnesses described as a large operation by US commandos
ISIS leader Abu Ibrahim al-Hashimi al-Qurayshi was killed in a "successful" U.S. Special Operations counterterrorism mission in northwest Syria Thursday, President Biden and the Pentagon have confirmed.
Pentagon press secretary John Kirby said there were no U.S. casualties. Al-Qurayshi detonated a large amount of explosives during the raid, killing himself, his wife and some of his children, U.S. officials told Fox News.
"Thanks to the bravery of our troops this horrible terrorist leader is no more," Biden said. "Our forces carried out the operation with their signature preparation and precision and I directed the Department of Defense to take every precaution possible to minimize civilian casualties."
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"We do know that as our troops approached to capture the terrorist, in a final act of desperate cowardice – with no regard to the lives of his own family or others in the building – he chose to blow himself up, not just with the vest, but to blow up that third floor rather than face justice for the crimes he has committed, taking several members of his family with him," Biden added.
U.S. senior administration officials told Fox News that planning for Thursday's operation in the village of Atmeh was on the level and scale of the 2011 raid on Usama bin Laden's compound in Pakistan.
The officials said Al-Qurayshi never left his home, only going to his rooftop occasionally to bathe and lived on the third floor of the property, relying on couriers and a lieutenant who lived on the second floor to operate his global terror network.
Senior administration officials also told Fox News that the family who lived in the first floor of the building was not involved with ISIS and were unaware that its leader lived above them.
That family – which included a 10-day-old baby – left the property when U.S. forces asked them to do so, the officials added.
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Residents in Atmeh, a village in rebel-held Idlib Province, told the Associated Press that there was a large ground assault, with U.S. forces using loudspeakers asking women and children to leave the area. They described the raid as the biggest operation since the October 2019 killing of Islamic State group leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi.
Omar Saleh, a resident of a nearby house, told the Associated Press he was asleep when his doors and windows started to rattle to the sound of low-flying aircraft at 1:10 a.m. local time. He ran to open the windows with the lights off, and saw three helicopters. He then heard a man, speaking Arabic with an Iraqi or Saudi accent through a loudspeaker, urging women to surrender or leave the area.
"This went on for 45 minutes. There was no response. Then the machine gun fire erupted," Saleh said. He said the firing continued for two hours, as aircraft circled low over the area.
The area where the raid happened, which is near the Turkish border, is home to several top Al Qaeda operatives and other militant groups still fighting President Bashar Assad.
There was at least one major explosion. U.S. officials told Fox News that one of the helicopters in the raid suffered a maintenance issue and had to be blown up on the ground.
Residents and activists told the AP that there were multiple deaths near the home that was raided, which included civilians. The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said nine people were killed, including two children. The White Helmets, a civil defense group in the country, tweeted that 13 people, including six children and four women, were killed.
The group said teams were able to enter the targeted building minutes after the fighting ended, at about 3:15 a.m., local time.
"Our teams rushed an injured child to the hospital," a statement read. "The child's entire family was killed in the operation. The teams also rushed another person to the hospital who was injured in the clashes when he approached the scene to witness what was happening."
The suicide detonation caused some civilian casualties, but the number of civilian deaths reported on the ground do "not correspond with what U.S. officials say occurred on the ground last night," two U.S. officials told Fox News.
Reuters said it viewed a video taken by a resident that showed the bodies of two "apparently lifeless children and a man in the rubble of a building at the location."
Prior to Thursday's raid, the Islamic State group has been reasserting itself in Syria and Iraq with increased attacks.
Last month, it carried out its biggest military operation since it was defeated and its members scattered underground in 2019: an attack on a prison in northeast Syria holding at least 3,000 IS detainees. The attack appeared aimed to break free senior IS operatives in the prison.
It took 10 days of fighting for U.S.-backed, Kurdish-led forces to retake the prison fully, and the force said more than 120 of its fighters and prison workers were killed along with 374 militants. The U.S.-led coalition carried out airstrikes and deployed American personnel in Bradley Fighting Vehicles to the prison area to help the Kurdish forces.
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A December 2021 report by the Wilson Center, noted that al-Qurayshi, also known as Amir Muhammad Sa’id Abdal-Rahman al-Mawla, hasn’t shown his face and the group has released almost no biographical details about him.
"Al-Mawla has not even given an audio address in which Islamic State members might hear his voice—a sharp break in precedent," the report said. "Some disaffected former members of the group have argued that it is contrary to the Sharia to pledge allegiance to a ghost, but that does not seem to have swayed opinion. If there was opposition to al Mawla’s ascension, it has not manifested on the battlefield."
Fox News' Greg Norman, Edward Lawrence and the Associated Press contributed to this report.