U.S. special forces have killed the leader of the jihadist group Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS) in a raid in northwest Syria, President Joe Biden said on Thursday.
Abu Ibrahim al-Hashimi al-Quraishi was killed in the operation, the U.S. administration said. Rescue workers said at least 13 people also died, including women and children.
“Thanks to the skill and bravery of our armed forces, we have taken off the battlefield … the leader of ISIS. All Americans have returned safely from the operation,” Biden said in a statement.
Quraishi succeeded Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi who led the group when it took over swaths of Syria and Iraq, ruling over millions of people at the height of its self-declared caliphate.
Baghdadi was killed in Oct. 2019 by U.S. troops — also in a raid in north Syria — after ISIS fighters were defeated on the battlefield. The group is now waging insurgent attacks in Iraq and Syria.
Pentagon Press Secretary John Kirby earlier described Thursday’s raid as a successful counterterrorism mission, saying there were no U.S. casualties.
Syrian rescue workers said at least 13 people, including six children and four women, were killed by clashes and explosions that erupted after the raid began, targeting a house in the Atmeh area near the Turkish border.
Residents said helicopters landed and heavy gunfire and explosions were heard during the raid that began around midnight. U.S. forces used loud speakers to warn women and children to leave the area, they said.
Action comes on heels of prison break
The U.S.-led coalition has targeted high-profile militants on several occasions in recent years, aiming to disrupt what U.S. officials say is a secretive cell known as the Khorasan group that is planning external attacks. A U.S. airstrike killed al-Qaeda’s second in command, former bin Laden aide Abu al-Kheir al-Masri, in Syria in 2017.
U.S. military procedures to guard against civilian casualties are currently under scrutiny, however, following a high-profile mistaken drone strike in Afghanistan that the Pentagon initially hailed a success.
President Biden, Vice President Harris and members of the President’s national security team observe the counterterrorism operation responsible for removing from the battlefield Abu Ibrahim al-Hashimi al-Qurayshi — the leader of ISIS. <a href=”https://t.co/uhK75WeUme”>pic.twitter.com/uhK75WeUme</a>
A number of jihadist groups with links to al-Qaeda operate in northwestern Syria, the last major bastion of rebels fighting President Bashar al-Assad in the decade-long Syrian war. Leaders of ISIS have also hidden out in the area.
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 ISIS detainees. The attack appeared aimed to break free senior ISIS 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.
A senior Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) official, Nowruz Ahmad, said Monday that the prison assault was part of a broader plot that ISIS had been preparing for a long time, including attacks on other neighbourhoods in Kurdish-run northeastern Syria and on the al-Hol camp in the south, which houses thousands of families of ISIS members.