A building destroyed in the aftermath of a counter-terrorism mission conducted by the U.S. Special Operations Forces is seen in Atmeh, Syria, February 3, 2022. Photo: Reuters
The leader of Islamic State has died after blowing himself and family members up during a U.S. military raid in Syria, President Joe Biden said on Thursday, dealing a blow to the jihadist group’s efforts to reorganise as a guerrilla force after losing large swathes of territory.
According to Reuters, Abu Ibrahim al-Hashemi al-Quraishi, had led Islamic State since the death in 2019 of its founder Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, who was also killed when he detonated explosives during a raid by U.S. commandos.
As U.S. forces approached Quraishi in northwest Syria overnight, he blew himself up also killing members of his own family, including women and children, according to Biden and U.S. officials.
The blast was so big it blew bodies out of the three-storey building where Quraishi was and into surrounding streets in the town of Atmeh, U.S. officials said, blaming Islamic State for all civilian casualties.
“Thanks to the bravery of our troops, this horrible terrorist leader is no more,” Biden said in remarks at the White House.
Neither Biden nor U.S. officials briefing reporters provided a death toll, but Syrian rescue workers said at least 13 people were killed, including four women and six children.
Quraishi’s death is another setback for Islamic State nearly three years after its self-declared caliphate was dismantled and its fighters defeated by U.S. and Iraqi forces.
Since then, Islamic State, also known as ISIS, has waged insurgent attacks in Iraq and Syria. The most recent was last month when its gunmen stormed a prison in northeastern Syria housing Islamic State suspects.
Quraishi, a 45-year-old Iraqi, had remained largely in the shadows since succeeding Baghdadi who led the group at the height of its power, when it launched a lightning expansion in 2014 that shocked the world. It took control of large areas of Syria and Iraq, ruling over millions of people with a iron fist and inspiring attacks in the West.
Biden and U.S. officials described Quraishi as the “driving force” behind the 2014 genocide of minority Yazidis in northern Iraq, and said he oversaw a network of Islamic State branches from Africa to Afghanistan.
“Last night’s operation took a major terrorist leader off the battlefield and has sent a strong message to terrorist around the world: We will come after you and find you,” Biden said.
The killing of Quraishi helps restore some of the Biden administration’s foreign policy credentials after it was widely criticized for last year’s messy withdrawal of U.S. forces from Afghanistan.
Residents in Atmeh, near the Syrian-Turkish border, 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.
U.S. military procedures to guard against civilian casualties are under scrutiny following a high-profile mistaken drone strike in Afghanistan that the Pentagon initially hailed a success.
Writing by Muzha Kucha