Updated February 3, 2022 at 9:59 AM CT
President Biden said a counterterrorism operation in northern Syria took out ISIS leader Ibrahim al-Hashimi al-Qurayshi – 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 at my direction, U.S. military forces in northwest Syria successfully undertook a counterterrorism operation to protect the American people and our Allies, and make the world a safer place,” Biden said in an earlier statement. “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.”
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.
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.