Biden: US raid in Syria killed top Islamic State leader

The U.S. president said he ordered the raid to “protect the American people and our allies, and make the world a safer place.”

By Associated Press

An elite U.S. military force killed one of the world’s most wanted terrorists, the leader of the Islamic State group, during an overnight raid in Syria’s northwestern Idlib province, President Joe Biden said Thursday.

The raid targeted Amir Muhammad Sa’id Abdal-Rahman al-Mawla, who took over as head of the militant group on Oct. 31, 2019, just days after leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi died during a U.S. raid in the same area. The target was also known as Abu Ibrahim al-Hashimi al-Qurayshi.

The operation came as IS has been trying for a resurgence, with a series of attacks in the region, including a 10-day assault late last month to seize a prison.

U.S. special forces landed in helicopters and assaulted a house in a rebel-held corner of Syria, clashing for two hours with gunmen, witnesses said. Residents described continuous gunfire and explosions that jolted the town of Atmeh near the Turkish border, an area dotted with camps for internally displaced people from Syria’s civil war.

First responders reported that 13 people had been killed, including six children and four women.

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 planned to address the American public later Thursday morning.

“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,” Biden said in a statement. He said all Americans involved in the operation returned safely.

The two-story house, surrounded by olive trees in fields outside Atmeh, was left with its top floor shattered and blood spattered inside. A journalist on assignment for The Associated Press and several residents said they saw body parts scattered near the site. Most residents spoke on condition of anonymity for fear of reprisals.

The Pentagon did not initially identify the target of the raid. “The mission was successful,” Pentagon press secretary John Kirby said in a brief statement. “There were no U.S. casualties.”

Idlib is largely controlled by Turkish-backed fighters but is also an al-Qaida stronghold and home to several of its top operatives. Other terrorists, including extremists from the rival IS group, have also found refuge in the region.

“The first moments were terrifying, no one knew what was happening,” said Jamil el-Deddo, a resident of a nearby refugee camp.

“We were worried it could be Syrian aircraft, which brought back memories of barrel bombs that used to be dropped on us,” he added, referring to crude explosives-filled containers used by President Bashar Assad’s forces against opponents during the Syrian conflict.

The top floor of the low house was almost totally destroyed; a room there had collapsed, sending white bricks tumbling to the ground below.

The opposition-run Syrian Civil Defense, first responders also known as the White Helmets, said 13 people were killed in shelling and clashes that ensued after the U.S. commando raid. They included six children and four women, it said.

The Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, an opposition war monitor, also said the strike killed 13 people, including four children and two women. Ahmad Rahhal, a citizen journalist who visited the site, reported seeing 12 bodies.

The Pentagon provided no details on casualties in the raid.

The Observatory said the troops landed in helicopters. Residents and activists described witnessing a large ground assault, with U.S. forces using megaphones urging women and children to leave the area.

The U.S.-led coalition has targeted high-profile terrorists on several occasions in recent years, aiming to disrupt what U.S. officials say is a secretive cell known as the Khorasan group that is planning external attacks. A U.S. airstrike killed al-Qaida’s second in command, former bin Laden aide Abu al-Kheir al-Masri, in Syria in 2017.