Leader of so-called Islamic State killed in US operation in Syria, says Biden

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By AP  with Euronews
People inspect the destroyed house in Atmeh following the US operation.
People inspect the destroyed house in Atmeh following the US operation.   -   Copyright  AP Photo/Ghaith Alsayed

US special forces in Syria have killed the so-called Islamic State group leader, President Joe Biden has announced.

On Thursday, Biden said Abu Ibrahim al-Hashimi al-Qurayshi was killed during an overnight raid in Syria’s northwestern Idlib province.

“Thanks to the bravery of our troops this horrible terrorist leader is no more,” Biden said.

He said al-Qurayshi had been responsible for the most recent prison strike in Syria, as well as genocide against the Yazidi people in Iraq in 2014.

Biden said in a statement that he ordered the raid to “protect the American people and our allies, and make the world a safer place.” He added that all American personnel involved in the operation had returned safely.

A US official said al-Qurayshi died after detonating a bomb as US forces approached, killing himself and members of his family.

The operation came as the so-called Islamic State group had launched a series of attacks in the region in recent days.

Witnesses say US special forces landed in helicopters and assaulted a house in a rebel-held corner of Syria, clashing with gunmen.

Residents report that gunfire and explosions jolted the town of Atmeh near the Turkish border for two hours. First responders say that a total of 13 people had been killed, including six children.

According to an official, Biden, Vice President Kamala Harris, and senior national security aides monitored a live feed of the operation from the White House Situation Room.

Images from the scene showed the top floor of the two-storey house was destroyed.

Al-Qurayshi took over as head of the militant group in October 2019, just days after Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi died during a similar US raid in the same area.

Since he took over leadership, he had kept an extremely low profile, rarely releasing any audio recordings and not appearing in public.

His influence and day-to-day involvement in the group’s operations were unknown, and it is difficult to gauge how his death will affect the group.

His killing, however, is a significant blow just as the so-called Islamic State had been trying to reassert itself in Syria and Iraq.

Last month, the group carried out a 10-day attack on a prison in northeast Syria holding at least 3,000 IS detainees.

At the height of its territorial conquests around 2014, the so-called Islamic State controlled more than 40,000 square miles stretching from Syria to Iraq and ruled over 8 million people.

The area where al-Qurayshi was killed is dotted with camps for internally displaced people from Syria’s civil war.

Idlib is controlled mainly by Tahrir al-Sham -- the successor to the al-Nusra Front -- and Turkish-backed fighters but is also an al-Qaida stronghold and home to several of its top operatives. Other militants from the rival so-called Islamic State group have also found refuge in the region.