President Joe Biden announced Thursday that American forces had liquidated Abu Ibrahim al-Hashimi al-Qurayshi, the leader of the Islamic State terrorist group.
“Last night at my direction, U.S. military forces in the northwest Syria successfully undertook a counterterrorism operation to protect the American people and our allies, and make the world a safer place,” the president said, according to a White House news release.
“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. All Americans have returned safely from the operation.”
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. pic.twitter.com/uhK75WeUme
— The White House (@WhiteHouse) February 3, 2022
Wednesday night, the Department of Defense issued a statement announcing that “U.S. Special Operations forces under the control of U.S. Central Command conducted a counterterrorism mission this evening in northwest Syria.”
“The mission was successful. There were no U.S. casualties. More information will be provided as it becomes available,” the statement said.
#EXCLUSIVE Our source on the ground in Atmeh, #Syria managed to enter the house which was raided by US special forces last night. Blood on the floor, chaos inside, damage clearly visible. Have a look at this @akhbar video 👇👇pic.twitter.com/fzuPyJnIld
— Jenan Moussa (@jenanmoussa) February 3, 2022
The Wednesday night raid was the most significant American forces have carried out in the province since President Trump’s 2019 liquidation of al-Qurayishi’s predecessor Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi.
Atmeh, close to Syria’s border with Turkey, houses tens of thousands of Syrians internally displaced by the country’s decade-long civil war. According to the BBC, Al Qaeda affiliated jihadists reside in the targeted area.
The volunteer Syria Civil Defense or “White Helmets,” a humanitarian rescue group, announced on Twitter earlier Thursday morning local time in Syria that “13 people, including 6 children and 4 women, were killed in bombings and clashes that followed an airborne operation by American forces just after midnight.”
The BBC and the United-Kingdom-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights have also reported that at least 13 people have died during the attack.
At least 13 people, including 6 children and 4 women, were killed in bombings and clashes that followed an airborne operation by American forces just after midnight. The airborne operation targeted a house in #Atma town on the Syrian-Turkish border in rural north #Idlib. pic.twitter.com/7FW3TF7aOS
— The White Helmets (@SyriaCivilDef) February 3, 2022
“We woke up at 1 a.m. to the sound of helicopters … and then at around 3 a.m. we heard a barrage of attacks,” Abu Fahed al-Homsi, an internally displaced Syrian, told Al Jazeera. Al-Homsi lives a block away from the targeted site, according to Al Jazeera.
“We saw a house that was targeted and damaged roads, but we still have no idea what was going on,” Al Homsi said.
Helicopters were hovering over the attacked building for hours before the attack took place, residents told Al Jazeera. Then, U.S. forces stormed the home and carried out the attack.
When American forces surrounded the targeted building, they used loudspeakers to ask nearby to leave the area, a local named Mahmoud Cheadi told Al Jazeera.
“When the operation ended, we went to the area and saw a woman who apparently detonated an explosive vest, and inside the building, we saw some bodies, including [that of] a man and a child,” Cheadi said.
NEW — U.S. forces & helicopters have opened fire on the surrounded house in Dayr Balut, #Atmeh.
Audio clear here:pic.twitter.com/5zDPFSOz5R
— Charles Lister (@Charles_Lister) February 2, 2022
According to Reuters, a White House official blamed the deaths of women and children on the target of the raid.
“At the beginning of the operation the terrorist target exploded a bomb that killed him and members of his own family, including women and children,” the administration official said.
It’s worth noting that initial accounts of military actions in the Biden administration are not always entirely accurate. For instance, the administration’s account of a drone strike on a supposed terrorist target in Kabul, Afghanistan, in August was substantially different from what actually occurred, as even The New York Times reported.
Parts of northern Syria used to be a stronghold of the Islamic State terror group. Before the U.S. and its Operation Inherent Resolve partners defeated the group in 2019, the terrorist outfit had its de facto capital in the city of Raqqa, in the north-central part of the country.
The group is notorious for killing religious minorities, including Christians, in Iraq and other parts of the world under its control. From 2013 to 2018, the group killed over 28,442 people in terrorist attacks and territory under its control, according to estimates from Statista.
As of Thursday morning, Eastern Standard Time, the Islamic State group has not yet confirmed the death of its leader al-Qurayshi on its Element and RocketChat channels.
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