Washington, Feb 3 (EFE).- US President Joe Biden said Thursday that the global leader of the Islamic State terrorist group died in a suicide bomb blast during a US military raid on his home in the northwestern Syrian province of Idlib.
The raid came just days after the group, also known as ISIS, had carried out its biggest military action in Syria since being driven underground in 2019 – a Jan. 20 attack on a prison housing jihadists in the northeastern city of al-Hasakah.
In prepared remarks at the White House, Biden said Abu Ibrahim al-Hashemi al-Quraishi, whom he referred to as Hajji Abdullah (one of his pseudonyms), was known to have surrounded himself with families, including children.
In targeting him on Wednesday night, he said he therefore opted for a riskier special forces operation rather than an airstrike with the goal of minimizing civilian casualties.
“As our troops approached to capture the terrorist, in a final act of desperate cowardice, with no regard for the lives of his own family or others in the building, he chose to … blow up that third floor rather than face justice for the crimes he has committed,” Biden said.
The president said al-Quraishi’s predecessor – Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, who led ISIS when its self-declared caliphate was at its peak and ruled over millions of people in large swaths of Iraq and Syria – also died by suicide bomb in October 2019 during a US-led raid on his compound in that same Syrian region.
Biden did not confirm the number of people killed during the operation that began late Wednesday and spilled over into the wee hours of Thursday.
But a Syrian civil defense group known as the White Helmets said 13 people, including al-Quraishi, six children and four women, were killed in the operation in the rebel-held town of Atmeh.
He insinuated, however, that all of the civilian victims were killed in the bomb detonated by al-Quraishi.
White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki also told reporters that ISIS’s top leader died by suicide bomb and said that action also killed a woman and three children.
Prior to the raid, US special forces evacuated a family that lived on the first floor, a US official who spoke on condition of anonymity told reporters.
That official added that a total of eight children were evacuated from the building, including four on the second floor, where one of al-Quraishi’s lieutenants and his wife were killed in a gun battle with US forces.
A local resident who identified himself as Abu Ammar, meanwhile, told the European Pressphoto Agency (whose main shareholder is Efe) that after 30 minutes of negotiations there was a brief clash and then the intense launching of rocket fire for more than an hour.
“Suddenly there was a loud noise that frightened everyone. I opened the window at around 12.55 am (Thursday) and saw four helicopters and the landing of more than 50 soldiers; they started saying through loudspeakers that all floors of the house needed to be evacuated,” the man said.
The death of ISIS’s global leader comes days after an attack by ISIS sleeper cells on the al-Sina’a prison in al-Hasakah’s Geweran neighborhood.
Biden said in his remarks Thursday that the attempt to free captured ISIS leaders in the northeastern Syrian province of al-Hasakah was orchestrated by al-Quraishi.
That attack, which began with a car-bomb blast outside the prison and was thwarted by the Kurdish-led Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF), a key US ally, was ISIS’s most significant action since it was expelled nearly three years ago from all the territories it controlled in Syria.
The SDF said a total 495 people, most of them jihadists, were killed over 10 days of violence in northeastern Syria.
ISIS currently has active cells in the vast desert of central Syria, where its fighters regularly attack Syrian government and Kurdish forces. EFE