In this image provided by The White House, President Joe Biden and Vice President Kamala Harris and members of the President's national security team observe from the Situation Room at the White House in Washington, on Wednesday, Feb. 2, 2022, the counterterrorism operation responsible for removing from the battlefield Abu Ibrahim al-Hashimi al-Qurayshi, the leader of the Islamic State group. (Adam Schultz/The White House via AP)
Biden says U.S. strike killed ISIS leader in Syria
There were no reported U.S. casualties.
By Peter Granitz and Brian Naylor/ NPR
President Biden said Thursday that ISIS leader Ibrahim al-Hashimi al-Qurayshi blew himself up as U.S. special forces conducted a pre-dawn raid against him in northern Syria – and that all Americans returned safely from the operation.
“Thanks to the bravery of our troops this horrible terrorist leader is no more,” Biden said in remarks at the White House.
“Last night operating on my orders, United States military forces successfully removed a major terrorist threat to the world, Biden said.
The president said that al-Qurayshi was responsible for the recent attack on a prison in Syria holding ISIS fighters and called him the “driving force” behind the genocide of the Yazidis in northern Iraq.
A senior administration official who spoke to reporters on the condition of anonymity said that al-Qurayshi “detonated a blast, a significant blast killing himself and several others, including his wife and children. This is the same terrorist tactic of his predecessor,” Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, the official said, “taking his own life and his own family rather than face justice or stand and fight on his own.”
“Both these terrorist leaders murdered their own families,” the official said. “In this case, the blast was so large on the third floor that it blew bodies outside of the house and into the surrounding areas.”
The official said that all casualties “at the site were due to the acts of ISIS terrorists.”
Biden was briefed on the operation more than a month ago when it was determined that al-Qurayshi was living at the site, and again this week. He gave the go ahead on Tuesday morning, with Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin and Joint Chiefs of Staff Chairman Mark Milley in the Oval Office. Biden and Vice President Harris monitored the two-hour operation in real time in the situation room. It ran according to plan, like “clockwork,” an official said.
An ISIS lieutenant living on the second floor of the building and his wife were also killed as they engaged with U.S. forces, officials said, and that eight children “were removed from the site safely.”
Toward the end of the operation, there was hostile engagement between a U.S. helicopter and local forces, a group with al-Qaida connections. At least two of those combatants were killed.
Earlier Thursday, the Pentagon, in a statement, said it carried out a counterterrorism mission in northwest Syria. U.S. officials confirmed to NPR that a helicopter had problems on the ground and had to be blown up in place.
The Syria Civil Defence, the rescue organization known as the White Helmets, tells NPR that 13 civilians died in bombings and clashes, including six children. The group said it received initial word of an airborne raid shortly after midnight, and clashes and bombings continued after the initial air raid. They lasted until 3:07 AM, “when helicopters exited the scene.”
The attack targeted a two-story building in the town of Atmeh near the Turkey-Syria border.
The Associated Press reports this was the largest strike in Idlib since the 2019 strike that killed al-Baghdadi, which also killed civilians. Residents in Atmeh told the AP they witnessed a large ground assault and that American forces used loudspeakers warning women and children to flee.
Senate Majority leader Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., in a statement thanked “the incredible work of our brave military service members, who work day and night to keep Americans safe. So many have suffered at the brutal hand of ISIS.” He said senators would receive a classified briefing on the operation later Thursday with Austin and other senior administration officials.
In a statement issued Thursday, Austin noted the operation was designed and conducted to minimize civilian casualties. “We know that al-Qurayshi and others at his compound directly caused the deaths of women and children last night. But, given the complexity of this mission, we will take a look at the possibility our actions may also have resulted in harm to innocent people,” Austin said.