President Biden and the Pentagon have confirmed Thursday that ISIS leader Abu Ibrahim al-Hashimi al-Qurayshi was killed during a U.S. Special Operations mission in northwest Syria.
According to Fox News, “Al-Qurayshi detonated a large amount of explosives during the raid, killing himself, his wife and some of his children”. Pentagon press secretary John Kirby said there were no U.S. casualties.
In a statement, Biden said, “Thanks to the bravery of our troops this horrible terrorist leader is no more”. “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”.
“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.
Officials told Fox News that planning for the operation in the village of Atmeh “was on the level and scale of the 2011 raid on Usama bin Laden’s compound in Pakistan”.
Al-Qurayshi reportedly never left his home, living on the third floor and occasionally going to his rooftop to bathe. The family that lived on the first floor of the building was not involved with ISIS and did not know who lived above them. U.S. forces had asked the family to leave the property.
Residents in Atmeh told the Associated Press that there was a ground assault, with U.S. forces using loudspeakers to ask women and children to leave the area.
One resident, Omar Saleh, told the Associated Press that his windows started to rattle around 1:10 a.m. and he saw three helicopters. He heard a man speaking Arabic through a loudspeaker, asking women to leave or surrender. “This went on for 45 minutes. There was no response. Then the machine gun fire erupted,” he said.
There was at least one major explosion during the raid. U.S. officials reported that one helicopter suffered a maintenance issue and had to be blown up on the ground.
The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said nine people, including two children, were killed. The White Helmets, a civil defense group in the country, reported that 13 people were killed, including six children and four women.
Before the raid on Thursday, the Islamic State group has been building in Syria and Iraq with increased attacks. Its biggest military operation since it was defeated was carried out last month.
A prison in northeast Syria holding at least 3,000 IS detainees was attacked, reportedly to release senior IS operatives. It took 10 days for forces backed by the U.S. to regain full control of the prison, with over 400 people dying.