WASHINGTON (CN) — Abu Ibrahim al-Hashimi al-Qurayshi, who has led the Islamic State group for over two years, was killed early Thursday during a U.S. special forces raid in northwestern Syria, President Joe Biden announced this morning.
"Last night at my direction, U.S. military forces in northwest Syria successfully undertook a counterterrorism operation to protect the American people and our Allies, and make the world a safer place. Thanks to the skill and bravery of our Armed Forces, we have taken off the battlefield Abu Ibrahim al-Hashimi al-Qurayshi — the leader of ISIS. All Americans have returned safely from the operation," Biden said in a statement.
Al-Qurayshi, also known as Amir Muhammad Sa'id Abdal-Rahman al-Mawla, took over leadership of ISIS in 2019, after a U.S. raid led by then-President Donald Trump killed the militant group's last leader, Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi.
His death comes after a raid that began late Wednesday in Syria's Idlib province when U.S. special forces laid siege to a house in Atmeh, Syria, leading to two hours of gunfire in the city near Syria's Turkish border.
Atmeh is home to camps of refugees and people displaced by Syria's ongoing war. Al-Qurayshi was the target of the operation, according to the White House.
Estimates from first responders to the scene reported 13 deaths. Six of the fatalities were children and four were women.
Biden said it was to minimize civilian casualties that the U.S. chose to conduct an on-the-ground special forces raid.
“Knowing that this terrorist had chosen to surround himself with families, including children, we made a choice to pursue a special forces raid at a much greater risk to our own people rather than targeting him with an airstrike,” Biden said Thursday.
Al-Qurayshi was on the third floor of the multilevel house as U.S. forces closed in Thursday morning.
The president said the militant leader then detonated a bomb that killed himself and members of his family.
“As our troops approached to capture the terrorist, in a final act of desperate cowardice, with no regard to the lives of his own family or others in the building, he chose to blow himself up, not just to the vest, but to blow up that third floor, rather than face justice for the crimes he has committed, taking several members of his family with him just as his predecessor did,” Biden said
The Pentagon has said there were no American casualties during the raid.
The Islamic State group’s former leader al-Baghdadi also killed himself, setting off a suicide vest that took the lives of two children during a 2019 raid by U.S. forces.
With al-Qurayshi at its helm, ISIS has been increasing its pressure for power in Syria, conducting a massive 10-day assault last month on a prison in northeastern Syria that held operatives for the group.
Kurdish forces supported by the United States lost 120 fighters during the 10 day battle that involved airstrikes to fend off militant incursions.
“Last night's operation took a major terrorist leader off the battlefield and has sent a strong message to terrorists around the world: we will come after you and find you,” Biden said. Once again today, we continue our unceasing effort to keep the American people safe and the strength and security of our allies and partners around the world."
Al-Qurayshi had avoided public appearances and little was known about him.
"Some disaffected former members of the group have argued that it is contrary to the Sharia to pledge allegiance to a ghost, but that does not seem to have swayed opinion. If there was opposition to al Mawla's ascension, it has not manifested on the battlefield," the Wilson Center noted in a December 2021 report.
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