The leader of Islamic State has been killed during a raid by US special forces in Syria.
Abu Ibrahim al-Hashimi al-Qurayshi died by exploding a bomb that killed himself and members of his family as American forces approached a house in the village of Atmeh, in the rebel-held province of Idlib, a US official said.
He was among at least 13 people including four women who died during the operation, which lasted two hours.
At least six children were also among the victims, with one girl badly injured as the violence unfolded, children’s charity UNICEF said in a statement.
Pentagon press secretary John Kirby said the mission was “successful”, adding there were no US military casualties.
US President Joe Biden announced the killing in a statement, saying: “Thanks to the skill and bravery of our Armed Forces, we have taken off the battlefield Abu Ibrahim al-Hashimi al-Qurayshi.”
President Biden, Vice President Harris and members of the President’s national security team observe the counterterrorism operation responsible for removing from the battlefield Abu Ibrahim al-Hashimi al-Qurayshi — the leader of ISIS. pic.twitter.com/uhK75WeUme
— The White House (@WhiteHouse) February 3, 2022
He said troops “successfully undertook a counterterrorism operation to protect the American people and our allies, and make the world a safer place”.
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- Islamic State
In a White House address on Thursday afternoon, the president said he was determined to protect US citizens from terrorist threats and vowed to take “decisive action” to protect the country.
Mr Biden told the nation: “Last night, operating on my orders, the United States military forces successfully removed a major terrorist threat to the world, the global leader of ISIS.
Last night’s operation is a testament to America’s reach and capability to take out terrorist threats — no matter where they try to hide in the world.
I am determined to protect the American people from terrorist threats, and I will take decisive action to protect this country.
— President Biden (@POTUS) February 3, 2022
Since Al-Qurayshi took control of the terror group in 2019, “ISIS has directed terrorist operations targeting Americans, our allies and our partners, and countless civilians in the Middle East, Africa and in South Asia,” Mr Biden said.
“He oversaw the spread of ISIS affiliated terrorist groups around the world after savaging communities and murdering innocents.
“Thanks to the bravery of our troops this horrible terrorist leader is no more.”
Mr Biden said the US department of defence took “every precaution possible to minimise civilian casualties” and chose to pursue a special forces raid rather targeting Al-Qurayshi with an air strike, “at a much greater risk to our own people”.
And he branded the terror leader a “coward”.
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“We do know, as our troops approached to capture the terrorist, in a final desperate act of cowardice, he, with no regard for the lives of his own family or others in the building, chose to blow himself up… rather than face justice.”
“Last night’s operation took a major terrorist leader off the battlefield and has sent a strong message to terrorists around the world,” Mr Biden added, as he warned: “We will come after you and find you.”
A US administration official blamed the civilian casualties on the explosive used by militants.
One of the helicopters used in the raid suffered a mechanical problem and had to be blown up on the ground, officials said.
Al-Qurayshi, also known as Amir Muhammad Sa’id Abdal-Rahman al-Mawla, was named as the second leader of IS after founder Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi was killed in October 2019.
“While we are still assessing the results of this operation, this appears to be the same cowardly terrorist tactic we saw in the 2019 operation that eliminated al-Baghdadi,” the US official said.
IS has been trying for a resurgence in the region, launching a series of attacks that include an assault on a prison last month.
The US raid began at around midnight as helicopters landed and heavy gunfire was heard, according to residents.
American troops used loudspeakers to warn women and children to leave the area.
The top floor of the house was destroyed during the clash and body parts were seen scattered near the site.
Residents told of the relentless gunfire and explosions that jolted Atmeh, near the Turkish border, in northwest Syria – which is home to many camps for people displaced from the country’s civil war.
Areas in the town populated by civilians were “severely damaged” according to reports, the UNICEF statement said.
Since the year began, violence has heavily escalated in and around Idlib in Syria’s northwest, which is home to 1.2 million children in need of assistance, the charity added.
“Many families in the area are internally displaced, having fled violence in other parts of Syria over the years.
“Last year, nearly 70 per cent of grave violations recorded against children in Syria occurred in the northwest.
“This recent increase in violence comes amid freezing weather conditions and record sub-zero temperatures in Syria and the region.
“At least five Syrian children died in the north of Syria due to harsh winter conditions in the past two weeks alone”.