ATMEH, Syria – Neighbors have never heard of anything like it.
The sudden roar of an attack helicopter woke families living in a pastoral area in northwestern Syria after midnight. They huddled in basements, storage rooms and bedrooms.
“What’s going on, dad?” A neighbor, Abu Omar, recalled his son’s question.
An Arabic-speaking voice boomed from a loudspeaker as American forces ordered the occupants of one home to surrender themselves, witnesses told New York Times reporters at the scene.
“Everyone will be safe if you surrender,” said Abu Omar’s voice. “Those who stay will die.”
The United States hailed the commandos’ rare airstrike on a rebel-held area early Thursday as a major success against terrorism, saying it ended the ball leader’s life. of the Islamic State, known as Abu Ibrahim al-Hashemi al-Qurayshi.
But for families living near his final destination, on the outskirts of the town of Atmeh, near Syria’s border with Turkey, the raid made for a night of surprise and horror.
A man named Abu Muhammad, one of five neighbors interviewed by The Times on Thursday, said his family was so scared by what they heard outside that they didn’t even look out the door. book.
Then they heard a loud bang on the door and opened it to find American commandos and an Arabic-speaking interpreter.
Abu Muhammad said they would not be harmed, and were instructed to flee their home and hide behind another building until the confrontation was over, Abu Muhammad said. They did as they were told.
When the raid lasted more than two hours, 13 bodies were recovered from the wreckage, including six children, rescue workers said. US officials say most were killed when al-Qurayshi refused to surrender and instead detonated explosives that killed him and his family members.
The campaign highlights the possibility of ISIS seeking refuge in the chaos left by Syria’s 10-year civil war: The leader of the world’s most feared terrorist organization is hiding on the third floor of a simple house, surrounded by olives. miles from his group’s traditional red ground.
At its height, the Islamic State controlled territory the size of Britain extending across the Syria-Iraq border. The United States and other countries have partnered with local forces in both countries to fight the jihadists and drive them out of their last swathe of territory in eastern Syria in early 2019.
Mr. al-Qurayshi became the leader of the group later that year after his predecessor, Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, blew himself up in a similar raid by US Special Forces, also in Idlib province. northwest Syria.
However, in trying to eliminate many of his enemies, al-Qurayshi also took refuge in Idlib, a impoverished area crowded with Syrians fleeing violence in other parts of the country, and a in the last territories controlled by rebels fighting President Bashar al-Assad.
About 11 months ago, a Syrian truck driver rented the house targeted in the raid, said Muhammad Sheikh, whose family owns it.
The truck driver pays $130 a month and lives on the second floor with his wife, three children, sister and daughter, said Sheikh. They kept quiet and kept to themselves, and the truck driver politely insisted on handing over the monthly rent to the landlord, presumably to prevent him from visiting the house.
Late last year, the United States received word that al-Qurayshi was living on the top floor, Biden administration officials said. He never leaves the building, but occasionally showers on the rooftop. To contact the distant terrorist organization he leads, he relies on the polite truck driver who lives downstairs.
The night of the raid, the area was dark from a constant lack of electricity, and everyone was fast asleep until the siren of an approaching helicopter woke them up around 1am.
Abu Omar said the Americans did not attack the house immediately, but repeatedly urged its occupants to come out peacefully.
A civilian family lived on the first floor, and Abu Omar said the voice on the loudspeaker begged a woman and her children to get out of the house.
“Go, woman, and let the children have a chance,” said the voice, according to Abu Omar. Then the voice grew increasingly menacing, saying the Americans would shoot at the house if she didn’t come out.
In a video interview on Thursday with Baladi NewsThe woman, who did not want to be named, said that after US forces fired what she believed to be a missile at the house, she, her husband, son and at least two other children fled the house.
Her husband and son were captured by the Americans and thrown to the ground, she said.
The American told her to drop the children she was holding and take off her headscarf, but she was scared and ran inside with them, she said.
At her husband’s urging, she finally gave in again. US forces separated her from her children, searched her and questioned the couple about their relationship with neighbours, she said.
“When we say we don’t know them, they don’t believe us,” the woman said.
“How can we be neighbors and not know each other?” she said they asked.
A man, a woman and several children escaped the building safely, US officials said, apparently referring to the family.
Shortly after, al-Qurayshi detonated explosives on the third floor, killing himself and blowing the bodies of others out, officials said.
U.S. commandos then stormed into the building and exchanged gunfire with al-Qurayshi’s courier and his wife on the second floor, officials said. Both were killed, but the four children were safely evacuated.
But the woman and other neighbors said they saw and heard US forces fire on the building with heavy machine guns and rockets before the commandos entered.
The woman also said that the courier and his wife were killed, but the US forces took their four children out, including a 15-day-old boy.
He said that in a nearby basement, Abu Omar and his children also heard gunshots and a loud explosion, which he thought was caused by a missile hitting the house. Terrified, his children trembled and some were drenched with fear.
“They won’t hit us,” he told them. “They’re going to another house.”
Neighbors said that after 3 a.m., the army was fully loaded and they heard the humming of helicopters receding into the distance. In the end, all was quiet and they left the house and hideout.
A neighbor, who asked only to be identified by his name, Ahmed, said that he entered the house targeted during the raid and found the bodies of a woman and a child, and The woman apparently killed them both with an explosive. vest.
Abu Muhammad, who is believed to have been hidden by the US military, led his family back to their home and found the body of a dead child near the damaged house next door.
Rescuers arrived to dig bodies out of the bloody rubble. Neighbors collected other remains they found and buried them nearby.
Jamil al-Dadu, 30, who heard of the raid from a nearby refugee camp and came in the morning to see what had happened: “We have never had such an operation before. . “We weren’t expecting an American.”
Muhammad Hij Kadour reported from Atmeh, Syria, and Ben Hubbard from Beirut, Lebanon. Eric Schmitt Contribution reports from Washington, and Asmaa al-Omar and Hwaida Saad from Beirut.
https://www.nytimes.com/2022/02/03/world/middleeast/isis-raid-idlib-qurayshi.html Neighbors recall night of terror in Syria The raid that killed ISIS leader