Biden explains the U.S. operation that killed a “horrible terrorist leader” of ISIS in Syria

Washington — President Biden praised U.S. special forces for a raid in Syria that led to the death of the leader of ISIS, Abu Ibrahim al-Hashimi al-Qurayshi, who detonated an explosive that killed himself and members of his family at the beginning of the operation near the Turkish border.

“Thanks to the bravery of our troops, this horrible terrorist leader is no more,” Mr. Biden said in remarks at the White House.

Describing the atrocities the ISIS leader perpetrated, the president said he authorized the raid to minimize the number of civilian casualties that would have resulted from an airstrike.

“Our team is still compiling the report, but 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, just as his predecessor did,” Mr. Biden said, referring to Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, who similarly blew himself up during a 2019 raid by U.S. forces.

United State Syria Military Raid
People inspect a destroyed house following an operation by the U.S. military in the Syrian village of Atmeh, in Idlib province, Syria, on Thursday, February 3, 2022. Ghaith Alsayed/AP

According to the president, all American forces involved in the raid “have returned safely from the operation.” Residents reported that there were many deaths.

The president first announced the target’s death in a statement Thursday morning.

Two senior administration officials told reporters on a conference call that the operation had been months in the making. When military officials believed they had found the leader of ISIS, Mr. Biden received a briefing a month prior to his departure. On Tuesday, the president approved the operation in the Oval Office.

Al-Qurayshi, also known as Haji Abdullah, lived on the third floor in a residential building. One official stated that he only ventured out to the roof for a few times and used other innocents as his “shield”. An innocent family and an ISIS lieutenant were located on the first and second floors, respectively, at the time the raid took place.

Before the operation started, troops called out for civilians to leave the building. According to U.S. officials, the civilian family, which included four children, was on the first floor of the building before the operation started.

Al-Qurayshi detonated the explosive that killed himself, his wife and his children at the beginning of the raid, although the blast didn’t collapse the building, senior administration officials said. Photos from the site show rubble on the collapsed third floor of the structure:

United State Syria Military Raid
People inspect a destroyed house following an operation by the U.S. military in the Syrian village of Atmeh, in Idlib province, Syria, on Thursday, February 3, 2022. Ghaith Alsayed / AP

The ISIS lieutenant on the second floor barricaded himself and members of his family, and he and his wife were killed when they engaged with members of the assault force, a senior administration official said. They had their children who survived. U.S. officials stated that eight children were removed safely from the structure.

In the planning process, the U.S. military was very concerned about the family living on the first floor, ignorant of the fact that an ISIS leader was living two floors above, officials said. In order to assess the possibility of the building collapsing in an attack, the military conducted engineering studies. It was possible that al-Qurayshi might not only have been wearing a suicide vest but could have also rigged the whole floor with explosives.

Al-Qurayshi was a more hands-on leader than his predecessor, and his engagement in coordinating the terror group’s plans may have given him away. He lived a similar lifestyle to Osama Bin Laden — he tried to maintain a low profile by not going out much, and almost never left the house.

Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin expressed his thanks to the U.S. military members who completed the operation.

“The fight against ISIS continues,” Austin said in a statement. Their leader might be dead, but their evil ideology and intent to terrorize, kill and maim still pose a threat to our national security, and many innocent lives. “

The White House released a photo of Mr. Biden and his national security team monitoring the operation from the White House Situation Room. Kamala Harris and Mr. Biden received updates in real time from Joint Chiefs Chairman Mark Milley, Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin and General Kenneth McKenzie (commander of U.S. Central Command).

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.

— The White House (@WhiteHouse) February 3, 2022

Officials did not provide a figure on how many civilians died in the raid, but said the numbers in some media reports didn’t match the information they had. Multiple times, they stated that all casualties were caused by terrorist acts inside the house.

A U.S. helicopter experienced a mechanical issue and was flown to a site away from the target area, the officials added. After it became clear that the chopper couldn’t return to its original destination, it was demolished. To leave, the forces boarded another helicopter.

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