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ISIS leader Abu Ibrahim al-Hashimi al-Qurayshi dies in US military raid in Syria

USA TODAY logo USA TODAY 2/3/2022 Michael Collins and Matthew Brown, USA TODAY
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WASHINGTON – Islamic State leader Abu Ibrahim al-Hashimi al-Qurayshi was killed in an overnight U.S. military raid in Syria, President Joe Biden announced Thursday.

Al-Qurayshi detonated a bomb that killed himself and several other people, including his wife and children, as U.S. special operations forces approached with the intention of capturing him, Biden said.

First responders reported that 13 people were killed, including six children and four women. Senior administration officials who spoke on the condition of anonymity said those numbers don't match their assessment of casualties.

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"Thanks to the bravery of our troops, this horrible terrorist leader is no more," Biden said at the White House.

U.S. forces landed in helicopters and assaulted a house in a rebel-held corner of northwest Syria, clashing for two hours with gunmen, witnesses said. The commandos were aided by helicopter gunships, armed Reaper drones and attack jets.

Al-Qurayshi was killed on the third floor of a house where he was living. One of his lieutenants barricaded himself and his family on the second floor during the raid. He and his wife fired on U.S. troops and were killed in the battle, officials said. Several children on the second floor left safely after the gunfire.

The operation "took a major terrorist leader off the battlefield and sent a strong message to terrorists around the world: We will come after you and find you," Biden said.

This image from US Department of Defense shows the compound housing ISIS leader Abu Ibrahim al-Hashimi al-Qurayshi in northwest Syria prior to a raid executed by U.S. forces, Feb 2, 2022. © Department of Defense This image from US Department of Defense shows the compound housing ISIS leader Abu Ibrahim al-Hashimi al-Qurayshi in northwest Syria prior to a raid executed by U.S. forces, Feb 2, 2022.

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Raid planned months ago

The raid took place overnight in northwest Syria, near the Turkish border, in the same region where the previous leader of the Islamic State group, Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi died in 2019. Al-Qurayshi took over as head of the militant group days after al-Baghdadi blew himself up during a U.S. raid in the same area.

Biden described al-Qurayshi's decision to set off the bomb as U.S. forces approached as "a final act of desperate cowardice, with no regard to the lives of his own family or others."

"He chose to blow himself up ... rather than face justice for the crimes he has committed, taking several members of his family with him, just as his predecessor did," Biden said.

The force of the bomb was so strong that it blew bodies outside the house and into the surrounding area, officials said.

Biden said all U.S. forces involved in the operation returned. There were no U.S. casualties, officials said.

The raid had been planned and rehearsed for months, senior administration officials said. Biden was briefed on the operation more than a month ago after officials confirmed that al-Qurayshi lived on the third floor of the house.

Biden gave final approval for the raid Tuesday morning during an Oval Office meeting with Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin and Gen. Mark Milley, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff.

Biden, Vice President Kamala Harris and senior national security aides monitored a live feed of the operation from the White House Situation Room.

Other civilians living in the building apparently were not aware of al-Qurayshi's identity, senior administration officials said. Before the raid, U.S. forces called out to others in the house and asked them to leave, the officials said. A woman, man and several children on the first floor safely vacated the building.

This photo provided from the US Department of Defense show the compound housing ISIS leader Abu Ibrahim al-Hashimi al-Qurayshi in northwest Syria after a raid executed by U.S. forces, Feb 2, 2022. Al-Qurayshi caused the explosion killing himself and multiple family members. © US Department of Defense This photo provided from the US Department of Defense show the compound housing ISIS leader Abu Ibrahim al-Hashimi al-Qurayshi in northwest Syria after a raid executed by U.S. forces, Feb 2, 2022. Al-Qurayshi caused the explosion killing himself and multiple family members.

Details on the raid

U.S. troops were on the ground for about two hours, Pentagon press secretary John Kirby said.

Biden said he asked the Defense Department to take every precaution to prevent civilian casualties, which is why the decision was made to undertake a more risky special operations forces raid instead of targeting al-Qurayshi with an airstrike.

“These efforts included a deliberate decision by the president to execute a raid on the location as opposed to an airstrike despite the additional risks that that decision put on our forces,” Kirby said. 

U.S. troops entered the building after the explosion and engaged in a firefight with a deputy of al-Qurayshi on the second floor, Kirby said. The man and his wife fired on the troops and were killed. A child was killed there, too.

Ten people were unharmed and not detained after the operation, Kirby said.

A helicopter with what Kirby described as drive-chain issues was flown to another site. It was destroyed there after it was determined it could not be flown safely.

Near the end of the raid, another helicopter came under fire from local forces, officials said. U.S. troops returned fire, killing at least two of the attackers.

Biden said al-Qurayshi was responsible for an assault late last month to seize a prison in northeast Syria holding at least 3,000 Islamic State detainees and for the genocide against the Yazidi people in Iraq in 2014.

"The fight against ISIS continues. Their leader may be gone, but their twisted ideology and their intent to kill, maim and terrorize still threaten our national security and the lives of countless innocents," Austin said in a statement.

Matthew Brown and Michael Collins cover the White House. Follow Brown on Twitter @mrbrownsir and Collins @mcollinsNEWS.

Contributing: Tom Vanden Bro

This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: ISIS leader Abu Ibrahim al-Hashimi al-Qurayshi dies in US military raid in Syria

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