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ISIS Leader Dies During U.S. Counterterrorism Raid in Syria, White House Says

Biden began preparing Americans for the consequences in remarks Tuesday warning that energy prices could spike, but he said his administration was working on ways to blunt the impact.
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  • The leader of terrorist group ISIS, Abu Ibrahim al-Hashimi al-Qurayshi, died during a U.S. raid in Syria, the White House said Thursday.
  • Al-Qurayshi rose through the ranks of ISIS before he was named its leader in October 2019, a few days after his predecessor, Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, was killed during a U.S. raid.
  • "Our forces carried out the operation with their signature preparation and precision," President Biden said.
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.
Courtesy: The White House
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.

WASHINGTON – The leader of terrorist group ISIS, Abu Ibrahim al-Hashimi al-Qurayshi, died during a U.S. raid in Syria, the White House said Thursday.

The Islamic State militant group leader was on the third floor of a building in northern Syria when U.S. special operators arrived. Al-Qurayshi detonated a bomb that killed himself and several members of his family.

Al-Qurayshi was previously a senior member of ISIS' predecessor organization, al-Qaeda in Iraq, before joining the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria, or ISIS.

He rose through the ranks of the terror group before he was named its leader in October 2019, a few days after his predecessor, Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, was killed during a U.S. raid.

A file photo of ISIS leader Abu Ibrahim al-Hashimi al-Qurayshi. US special forces kills Abu Ibrahim al-Hashimi al-Qurayshi on Feb 3, 2022. Abu Ibrahim al-Hashimi al-Qurayshi was among 13 people who died in a two hours gun battle at a house in the rebel-held province of Idlib in Syria.
Eyepress via Reuters
A file photo of ISIS leader Abu Ibrahim al-Hashimi al-Qurayshi. US special forces kills Abu Ibrahim al-Hashimi al-Qurayshi on Feb 3, 2022. Abu Ibrahim al-Hashimi al-Qurayshi was among 13 people who died in a two hours gun battle at a house in the rebel-held province of Idlib in Syria.

"As our troops approached to capture the terrorist, and in a final act of desperate cowardice he chose to blow himself up rather than face justice for the crimes he has committed," President Joe Biden said Thursday in an address from the White House.

"Thanks to the bravery of our troops, this horrible terrorist leader is no more. Our forces carried out the operation with their signature preparation and precision," Biden said, adding that all U.S. service members involved in the mission returned safely from the operation.

In an effort to minimize civilian casualties, Biden said he ordered an air assault on the compound instead of an airstrike. He added that the U.S. military was still compiling a report on the raid and was unable to give an exact number of civilian deaths from the blast.

People inspect a destroyed house following an operation by the U.S. military in the Syrian village of Atmeh, in Idlib province, Syria, Thursday, Feb. 3, 2022.
Ghaith Alsayed | AP
People inspect a destroyed house following an operation by the U.S. military in the Syrian village of Atmeh, in Idlib province, Syria, Thursday, Feb. 3, 2022.

On a call with reporters Thursday morning, two senior administration officials were also unable to give an update on civilian deaths. Pentagon spokesman John Kirby said that there were at least three known civilian casualties, but added that authorities were still assessing the aftermath.

But over the course of the day, new details about the raid emerged from sources on the ground in Syria. 

NBC News chief foreign correspondent Richard Engel and his team spoke to the owner of the building, who said he rented out the third floor to what he thought was a widow and her son.

Engel also shared the account of a neighbor who lived near the structure. This man said he heard military translators trying to convince women with children who were living on the building's lower floors to come out and surrender. 

He also said there were intermittent exchanges of gunfire between U.S. soldiers and residents in the three-story building. The negotiations, occasionally broken up by gunfire, lasted for two hours, Engel reported.

One of the first tallies of civilian casualties Thursday came from UNICEF, which reported that at least six children had been killed and one severely wounded in the fighting. The U.N. children's agency did not say how the children were killed.

Before (L) and after view of damage after an F-16 fighter jet and a helicopter hit a house killing 9 people including children and women during the operation carried out by US-led coalition in Idlib, Syria on February 3, 2022.
Courtesy: U.S. Department of Defense
Before (L) and after view of damage after an F-16 fighter jet and a helicopter hit a house killing 9 people including children and women during the operation carried out by US-led coalition in Idlib, Syria on February 3, 2022.

Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin said that while the overnight raid "dealt ISIS a severe blow," he would "take a look" at potential civilian deaths.

"The fight against ISIS continues. Their leader may be gone, but their twisted ideology and their intent to kill, maim and terrorize still threaten our national security and the lives of countless innocents," Austin wrote in a statement.

"Given the complexity of this mission, we will take a look at the possibility our actions may also have resulted in harm to innocent people," he added.

U.S. officials said that the raid had been planned for months, and that Biden was first briefed on the intelligence and potential operation in December.

"The president was regularly updated by his national security team on the planning details of this operation to include a briefing in the Oval Office earlier this week," an official said.

Biden, who approved the operation on Tuesday, watched the two-hour mission from the White House Situation Room.

During the operation, a U.S. military helicopter experienced a maintenance issue and was deemed unsafe to fly. The service members on the ground detonated the aircraft on-site. Kirby said that the decision to abandon the aircraft was made by U.S. Central Command Combatant Commander U.S. Marine Corps Gen. Kenneth McKenzie. Kirby said that the body of Al-Qurayshi was also left at the site.

The wreckage of the military helicopter that US forces had to destroy due to technical malfunction during an operation carried out by US forces, is seen near Afrin's Jindires town on February 03, 2022 in Idlib, Syria.
Bekir Kasim | Anadolu Agency | Getty Images
The wreckage of the military helicopter that US forces had to destroy due to technical malfunction during an operation carried out by US forces, is seen near Afrin's Jindires town on February 03, 2022 in Idlib, Syria.

The Pentagon would not confirm how many helicopters or servicemembers were involved in the mission.

"I'm grateful for the immense courage and skill and determination of our U.S. forces who skillfully executed this incredibly challenging mission," Biden said.

"The members of our military are the solid steel backbone of this nation, ready to fly into danger at a moment's notice to keep our country and the American people safe, as well as our allies."

 — CNBC's Christina Wilke contributed to this report from Washington.

Clarification: This story's headline was updated to clarify that the ISIS leader died during the raid.

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