US President Joseph Biden Thursday confirmed Islamic State (ISIS) leader Abu Ibrahim al-Hashimi al-Qurayshi had been killed following in a two-hour battle at a house in Syria's rebel-held province of Idlib.
This sends a strong message to the terrorists in the world: we will hunt them down and find them, Biden said. Last night, under my direction, the US military successfully conducted a counterterrorism operation. Thanks to the courage of our Armed Forces, we have removed Abu Ibrahim al-Hashimi al-Qurayshi — the leader of ISIS — from the battlefield,” Biden went on in a statement and during a White House press conference.
I am determined to protect the American people from the terrorist threat, Biden said. We remain vigilant, we remain prepared, he added.
We know that as our troops approached, he [al-Hashimi al-Qurayshi] in an act of desperate cowardice he chose to blow himself up rather than face justice for the crimes he has committed,” Biden explained. Al-Qurayshi's body was left at the site, US sources explained.
“I’m grateful for the immense courage and skill and determination of our U.S. forces who skillfully executed this incredibly challenging mission,” Biden said.
“The members of our military are the solid steel backbone of this nation, ready to fly into danger at a moment’s notice to keep our country and the American people safe, as well as our allies,” he added.
US military sources also pointed out the entire floor of the building where the terrorist leader was hiding blew up, reportedly killing everybody there, including women and children. Biden added that all US service members deployed had returned safely from Syria.
Other military sources said that a helicopter had been lost in the operation. But the Pentagon would not confirm how many helicopters or servicemembers were involved in the mission.
In an effort to minimize civilian casualties, the President said he ordered an air assault on the compound instead of an airstrike. At the time of the press conference he admitted the US military was still compiling a report on the raid and was therefore unable to give an exact number of civilian deaths, although other sources later set it at 13.
The Islamic State leader was on the third floor of a building in northern Syria when US troops arrived. Al-Qurayshi had been a senior member of ISIS’ predecessor organization, al-Qaeda in Iraq, before joining the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS).
He rose through the ranks of the terror group and became top leader in October 2019 after Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi was killed, also during a US raid.
NBC News chief foreign correspondent Richard Engel and his team spoke to the owner of the building, who said he rented out the third floor to what he thought was a widow and her son.
Engel also reported on a neighbor who said he heard military translators trying to convince women with children who were living on the building’s lower floors to come out and surrender.
UNICEF reported that at least six children had been killed and one severely wounded in the fighting.
“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,” US Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin wrote in a statement. “Given the complexity of this mission, we will take a look at the possibility our actions may also have resulted in harm to innocent people,” he added.
According to US officials, the attack had been planned for months, and Biden was first briefed on it back in December. The President gave the nod Tuesday. He watched the two-hour mission from the White House Situation Room alongside Vice President Kamala Harris.
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