ATMEH, Syria – President Joe Biden announced Thursday that a U.S. counterterrorism raid in Syria killed Abu Ibrahim al-Hashimi al-Qurayshi, leader of the Islamic State group.
The president said al-Qurayshi, who is also known as Hajii Abdullah, detonated explosives as troops were closing in as part of a special forces raid, killing himself and several others “in a final act of desperate cowardice.”
Update 3:25 p.m. EST Feb. 3: Gen. Kenneth “Frank” McKenzie, the top general of U.S. Central Command, said Wednesday night’s counterterrorism raid proved that the U.S. continues to be committed to security in the area.
Speaking during a keynote address for the Middle East Institute, McKenzie said the raid served as “a signal” to people who have doubted the United States’ commitment.
Further, he said, “The death of Hajji Abdullah is a clear signal that the United States remains committed to finding and eliminating the terrorists who are plotting to do us harm, and that we will not rest while their organizations remain committed to terrorism and violence against the international community and the United States of America.”
Update 3:20 p.m. EST Feb. 3: Officials said that a U.S. helicopter experienced a maintenance issue Wednesday night during the counterterrorism strike, prompting officials to demolish it.
Gen. Kenneth “Frank” McKenzie, the top general of U.S. Central Command, said Thursday that officials set the helicopter down, swapped out the crew and rigged it for demolition
“It was also subsequently struck by air launch munitions to ensure that no sensitive equipment would remain in Syria,” he said during a keynote address for the Middle East Institute.
Update 3:05 p.m. EST Feb. 3: Gen. Kenneth “Frank” McKenzie, the top general of U.S. Central Command, said Thursday that U.S. special forces began their counterterrorism raid Wednesday near Idlib in northwest Syria with the goal of capturing al-Qurayshi.
During a keynote address for the Middle East Institute, McKenzie said al-Qurayshi detonated an explosive as U.S. forces began callouts asking for people to evacuate from the three-story building where al-Qurayshi was known to be hiding.
“The explosion, which was more massive than what would be expected from a suicide vest, killed everyone on the third floor and in fact ejected multiple people from the building, including Hajji Abdullah,” he said. “But let me be very clear – Hajji Abdullah did not fight. He killed himself and his immediate family without fighting even as we continued to call for his surrender and offered him a path to survive.”
Officials said 10 people, including eight children, were evacuated from the building. In addition to al-Qurayshi, officials said the Islamic State group leader’s wife, their two children, a man identified as al-Qurayshi’s lieutenant, the wife of al-Qurayshi’s lieutenant and a child died in the raid.
Update 1:10 p.m. EST Feb. 3: Though officials believe al-Qurayshi’s death Wednesday night dealt a serious blow to the Islamic State group, Pentagon press secretary John Kirby emphasized Thursday that they group “still (remains) a threat.”
“No one is taking a victory lap here,” he said.
In a statement issued earlier Thursday, Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin said, “The fight against ISIS continues.”
“Their leader may be gone, but their twisted ideology and their intent to kill, maim and terrorize still threaten our national security and the lives of countless innocents,” he said. “And so, we will stay at it … encouraged by the bravery we witnessed last night and emboldened by the knowledge that ISIS, though still very much a viable threat, is now weaker.”
Update 1:05 p.m. EST Feb. 3: Pentagon press secretary John Kirby called al-Qurayshi’s death “a significant blow to ISIS,” calling him “a very hands-on leader (who was) involved in many day-to-day operations of ISIS.”
Officials confirmed al-Qurayshi’s identity using fingerprints and DNA analysis, Kirby said.
Al-Quarayshi, his wife and two children died Wednesday night when the Islamic State leader detonated explosives as U.S. special forces approached them during a raid in northwest Syria, officials said.
Update 1 p.m. EST Feb. 3: U.S. forces were able to evacuate 10 people Wednesday night before al-Qurayshi detonated explosives that killed himself, his wife and two children as troops closed in on them as part of a counterterrorism strike, Pentagon press secretary John Kirby said.
Officials evacuated a man, a woman and four children from the first floor of the building and four children from the second floor, Kirby said. He added that one of Abdullah’s lieutenants and the man’s wife fired shots at troops and died, along with a child, on the second floor.
Update 12:45 p.m. EST Feb. 3: Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin said Thursday that U.S. forces who conducted Wednesday night’s operation “dealt ISIS a severe blow and (have) helped make our country and our fellow citizens safer.”
“Al-Qurayshi, also known as Hajii Abdullah, provided near-constant operational guidance to ISIS fighters, to include the prison break and attack at Hasakah and the slaughter of Yazidis in Iraq,” Austin said. “He is now off the battlefield and out of command, and cannot threaten any more lives.”
The defense secretary also praised the leadership of U.S. Central Command and U.S. Special Operations Command “for their superb support to the planning and execution of this dangerous mission.”
“The fight against ISIS continues,” he said. “Their leader may be gone, but their twisted ideology and their intent to kill, maim and terrorize still threaten our national security and the lives of countless innocents.”
Update 10:40 a.m. EST Feb. 3: Biden said Wednesday night’s raid, which led to the death of al-Qurayshi, served as “a testament to America’s reach and capability to take out terrorist threats no matter where they try to hide anywhere in the world.”
“I’m determined to protect the American people from terrorist threats, and I’ll take decisive action to protect this country,” he said.
“We remain vigilant. We remain prepared. Last night’s operation took a major terrorist leader off the battlefield, and it sent a strong message to terrorists around the world: We will come after you and find you.”
He thanked U.S. servicemembers, their families and members of the U.S. intelligence community for their roles in Wednesday night’s raid.
“Thanks to the bravery of our troops, this horrible terrorist leader is no more,” Biden said. “Our forces carried out the operation with their signature preparation and precision.”
Update 10:30 a.m. EST Feb. 3: Biden praised U.S. forces for taking out a “major terrorist threat to the world” during a raid in northwest Syria targeting al-Qurayshi.
The president said al-Qurayshi had surrounded himself with families, including children, prompting officials to pursue a special forces raid rather than an air strike “at a much greater risk to our own people.”
“We made this choice to minimize civilian casualties,” Biden said. However, the president said “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” as troops approached.
Al-Qurayshi blew up the third floor of the building he was hiding in “rather than face justice for the crimes he’s committed – taking several of his family with him.”
Update 9:55 a.m. EST Feb. 3: Israeli Prime Minister Naftali Bennett said in a social media post Thursday that “the world is a safer place now that the leader of ISIS has been eliminated” following the U.S. raid that claimed the life of al-Qurayshi.
“I comment our great ally the United States and the brave American soldiers for executing this daring operation,” Bennett said. “We must continue the global fight against terror — with strength (and) determination.”
Biden is scheduled to deliver remarks Thursday morning on the counterterrorism raid carried out in northern Syria.
Update 8:45 a.m. EST Feb. 3: An unidentified U.S. official told The Associated Press that al-Qurayshi, who is also known as Amir Muhammad Sa’id Abdal-Rahman al-Mawla, died by exploding a bomb that killed himself and members of his family as U.S. forces approached.
Al-Qurayshi took over as head of the Islamic State group on Oct. 31, 2019, days after the previous leader, Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, died in a U.S. raid in the same area, according to the AP. Al-Baghdadi also died by exploding a bomb that killed himself, the AP reported.
Update 8:35 a.m. EST Feb. 3: Biden is scheduled to deliver remarks on the raid in northwest Syria in the Roosevelt Room at 9:30 a.m.
Update 7:59 a.m. EST Feb. 3: “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,” Biden said in a statement Thursday morning. “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. I will deliver remarks to the American people later this morning. May God protect our troops.”
Biden tweeted that he would deliver remarks about the mission later Thursday morning.
Original report: A U.S. special forces counterterrorism raid in northwest Syria resulted in multiple casualties Thursday, The Associated Press is reporting.
In a statement released early Thursday, Pentagon Press Secretary John Kirby provided few details about the mission, which he described as “successful.”
“There were no U.S. casualties,” the statement read. “More information will be provided as it becomes available.”
Local groups said civilians were killed in the strike, the AP reported. Opposition-run Syrian Civil Defense said 13 people, including four women and six children, died in the raid, according to the news agency. But the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, an opposition war monitor based in Britain, said the 13 dead included two women and four children, the AP reported.
Witnesses said the two-hour raid’s target was a home in Atmeh, a village in the rebel-held Idlib province, the AP reported.
It was not immediately clear whom the raid had targeted.
– The Associated Press contributed to this report.