ISIS leader dead after US commando raid in Syria

A risky pre-emptive strike by US Special Operations forces that resulted in the death of the Islamic State leader on Thursday was set off months ago with reports that the top terrorist is hiding on the top floor of a house in northwestern Syria.

In a brief address at the White House, President Biden said the decision to send about two dozen commandos to use helicopters to capture or kill the leader, Abu Ibrahim al-Hashimi al-Qurayshi, was made to minimize the risk civil harm. Military officials said a bomb or missile attack would be safer for troops but could endanger more than a dozen civilians in the house, including some children.

“We chose to pursue a Special Forces raid, at a much greater risk than ours – to our people, rather than targeting him with a single blow,” Mr Biden said. air strikes,” Biden said. “We made this choice to minimize civilian casualties.”

Aides said Biden approved the raid Tuesday morning after months of military planning, which included dozens of drills and one exercise involved a mock-up of the building’s countertop. On Thursday, he called the operation a warning to all terrorist groups. “This operation is a testament to the reach and ability of the United States to eliminate terrorist threats no matter where they try to hide in the world,” he said.

Ultimately, Biden said, al-Qurayshi died when a bomb exploded, killing him and members of his family. Rescue workers said women and children were among at least 13 people killed in the attack.

Pentagon officials say that 10 civilians, including eight children, have been safely evacuated and that commanders will review whether the mission harmed civilians.

The two-hour raid comes days after the end of the largest US war with Islamic State since the end of the so-called jihadist caliphate three years ago. US forces have backed a Kurdish-led militia in northeastern Syria as it fought for more than a week to expel Islamic State fighters from a prison they had occupied in the city of Hasaka.

The battle for the prison has killed hundreds and offers a stark reminder that even after the demise of caliphate, the group’s ability to cause chaotic violence remains, counter-terrorism experts say.

The US strike, carried out by about two dozen Delta Force commandos with the backing of Apache helicopters, armed Reaper drones and attack jets, resembled the October 2019 raid in which Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, the previous leader of the Islamic State, died when he blew up his suicide vest as US forces raided a hideout not far from where Thursday’s operation took place.

Defense Secretary Lloyd J. Austin III, tacitly acknowledging a recent spate of reports of US airstrikes killing civilians, said the Pentagon would look into whether the strike resulted in civilian casualties. usually or not. Last week, Austin ordered the military to step up efforts to prevent civilian deaths and improve the way it investigates and records claims of civilian harm in U.S. operations.

For Mr. Biden, the success of the operation was a welcome relief from the looming threat of a Russian invasion of Ukraine. It’s important for another reason: After the Taliban took over Afghanistan last year, there were concerns that the US evacuation would give ISIS a new chance to retake territory. CIA Director William J. Burns told Congress that efforts to gather intelligence about local ISIS activities could suffer.

Speaking in the Roosevelt Room of the White House, Mr. Biden spoke softly when describing the ISIS leader’s history, saying he had ordered a series of atrocities, including against the Yazidis.

Little is known about the ISIS leader, whose real name is Amir Muhammad Said Abdel-Rahman al-Mawla, or other members of the group’s senior command. But his death is a blow to the terrorist group, analysts say.

While he is not as prominent as his predecessor, “Mr. Colin P. Clarke, counterterrorism analyst at Soufan Group, a security consulting firm based in New York, said Qurayshi remains highly respected in jihadist circles and is known for being highly intelligent. Smart and able to think strategically.

Indeed, after al-Qurayshi replaced al-Baghdadi, the United States placed a bounty of up to $10 million on him.

Mr. Clarke said that al-Qurayshi, 45 years old and born in Iraq, had kept a low profile, which had helped him avoid a US-led manhunt but may have also hampered his ability to in expanding the global network and brand of the Islamic State. . In March 2019, ISIS lost its last piece of territory, which once stretched across parts of Syria and Iraq.

Credit…through the Ministry of Foreign Affairs

According to two senior administration officials who spoke on condition of anonymity to discuss the operation, an unidentified intelligence tip brought al-Qurayshi to the Atmeh area of ​​Idlib province and then, in early December, more specifically. is a stand-alone, three-story earthenware building surrounded by olive trees.

Pictures shared on social media by activists visiting the site show simple rooms with carpeted floors, diesel-powered heaters and strewn clothing and blankets, some covered in blood. blood.

US officials said al-Qurayshi and his family lived on the third floor. He only occasionally leaves the building to shower on the rooftop. He relies on a top lieutenant who lives on the second floor of the building and who, along with his network of couriers, carries out his orders to ISIS branches in Iraq and Syria, and elsewhere in the world. world without using electronic devices whose signals Western spies could intercept. – a practice Osama bin Laden used for many years.

Top Pentagon officials and military commanders applauded Mr. Biden for their plans, at one point showing a mock-up of the building where ISIS leaders and their families live – and noted that a Syrian family with no apparent connection to the terrorist group was living on the first floor.

Noting the danger to civilians and commandos, military engineers told Biden they did not believe the entire building would collapse if al-Qurayshi detonated a suicide vest or large explosives. than on the third floor. They proved to be right.

Opting for a ground raid allows commandos to attempt to safely evacuate civilians from the building – something that would be impossible in an air raid, which could flatten the building. In the end, no Americans were injured.

Immediately after the commandos arrived, warnings were shouted in Arabic about the bulls that urged the first-floor occupants – as well as anyone else – to evacuate. A man, a woman and four children fled from the first floor.

Not long after, al-Qurayshi detonated his explosives – much larger than a suicide vest – in an explosion so powerful that bodies, including his own, were blown away. out the window.

General Kenneth F. McKenzie Jr., head of Central Command, who oversaw the mission, “He killed himself and his immediate family without a fight, even when we tried to appeal to him. he surrenders and offers him a way to survive.” said during a virtual security conference sponsored by the Middle East Institute on Thursday.

After the explosion, commandos stormed the building and engaged in a gunfight with his top lieutenant al-Qurayshi and his wife, who were barricaded on the second floor with their children. Both children were killed, but four were safely evacuated.

US officials said most of the casualties were due to the explosion on the third floor and fighting on the second floor.

In complex raids, the army’s initial version of events may be incomplete. Accounts of past activities are sometimes contradictory or false, and Mr. Kirby warned that the Pentagon is still gathering information from the attack.

Mr. Biden, along with Vice President Harris, Mr. Austin and General Mark A. Milley, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, oversaw the mission late Wednesday from the White House Situation Room.

Mr. Kirby said that at a particularly stressful time in the operation, a US helicopter carrying commandos to the building experienced a mechanical problem – the transmission failed. It flew to a position far from the target location, where the commanders determined that it could not be repaired immediately and was destroyed by rigged explosives and American strike aircraft.

At another time when the operation was over, several armed men with links to Al Qaeda approached the house threateningly. In a brief shootout, two fighters were killed and several others fled, officials said.

Mr. Kirby said that military forensic experts identified Mr. al-Qurayshi using fingerprint and DNA analysis, and left his remains at the scene. Mr. Kirby said the US military does not hold prisoners or civilians. But he pointed out that the commandos had collected documents such as cell phones and computer hard drives – as is customary in this type of operation – which analysts would study for clues about countering ISIS.

When asked about the timing of the raid, Mr. Kirby said many factors played a role: intelligence level, certainty of the ISIS leader’s location, weather and operating conditions (it was the night most of the day). like no moon, ideal for night activities).

“A lot of elements have to line up to fit,” Mr. Kirby said. “This is the best window to do the task.”

Mr. Kirby said the fight against ISIS and other extremist groups would continue. “They are still a threat,” he said. “Nobody won.”

Ben Hubbard report from Beirut. David E. Sanger, Helene Cooper, Julian Barnes and John Ismay Contribution report from Washington. ISIS leader dead after US commando raid in Syria

Fry Electronics Team

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