President Biden said on Thursday that the leader of the Islamic State died during a raid by U.S. Special Operations commandos in a risky pre-dawn attack in northwest Syria. Rescue workers said women and children were among at least 13 people killed during the raid.
Mr. Biden said in a statement that the terrorist leader, identified by ISIS as Abu Ibrahim al-Hashimi al-Qurayshi, was killed. A senior administration official said Mr. al-Qurayshi died at the beginning of the operation when he exploded a bomb that killed him and members of his own family, including women and children.
“Thanks to the skill and bravery of our armed forces, we have taken off the battlefield Abu Ibrahim al-Hashimi al-Qurayshi — the leader of ISIS,” Mr. Biden said in a statement. “All Americans have returned safely from the operation.”
The helicopter-borne assault carried out by about two dozen American commandos, backed by helicopter gunships, armed Reaper drones and attack jets, resembled the raid in October 2019 in which Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, the previous leader of the Islamic State, died when he detonated a suicide vest as U.S. forces raided a hide-out not far from where Thursday’s operation took place.
The airborne raid came days after the end of the largest U.S. combat involvement with the Islamic State since the end of the jihadists’ so-called caliphate three years ago. American forces backed a Kurdish-led militia in northeastern Syria as it fought for more than a week to oust Islamic State fighters from a prison they had occupied in the city of Hasaka.
Little is known about Mr. al-Qurayshi, who succeeded Mr. al-Baghdadi, or ISIS’s top command structure. But analysts said the death of the Islamic State leader was a significant blow to the terrorist group.
American helicopters ferried the commandos into position after midnight, surrounding a house in Atmeh, a town close to the border with Turkey in rebel-held Idlib Province, according to eyewitnesses, social media reports and the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, a conflict monitor based in Britain.
A tense standoff briefly ensued, with loudspeakers blaring warnings in Arabic for everyone in the house to surrender, neighbors said. Then an explosion rocked the building. After that, some of the house’s occupants had not emerged and a major battle erupted, with heavy machine gun fire and apparent missile strikes.
During the operation, one of the American helicopters suffered a mechanical problem, was forced to land and was later destroyed by American attack aircraft. After about three hours, the American commandos and their remaining helicopters flew off, witnesses said.
Given the fluid nature of early reports in a complex raid like Thursday’s operation, the military’s initial version may be incomplete. Accounts of other events have at times turned out to be contradictory or sometimes flat wrong.
Reporting was contributed by Falih Hassan, Muhammad Najdat Hij Kadour, Asmaa al-Omar, Hwaida Saad and Evan Hill.