Biden addresses death of top ISIS leader in US-led raid

By Aditi Sangal, Adrienne Vogt, Melissa Macaya and Meg Wagner, CNN

Updated 8:32 PM ET, Thu February 3, 2022
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9:06 a.m. ET, February 3, 2022

Bomb exploded by counterterrorism target resulted in civilian causalities, administration sources tell CNN

From CNN's Natasha Bertrand, Barbara Starr and Kevin Liptak 

Syrian Civil Defence volunteers evacuate a body from a house in northwestern Syria on February 3 following an overnight raid by US special operations forces against suspected jihadists.
Syrian Civil Defence volunteers evacuate a body from a house in northwestern Syria on February 3 following an overnight raid by US special operations forces against suspected jihadists. (Abdulaziz Ketaz/AFP/Getty Images)

A bomb exploded by the target of a US military operation in northwest Syria early Thursday morning resulted in civilian casualties, multiple administration officials told CNN, citing early assessments of the operation. 

US Special Forces conducted a counterterrorism mission in northwest Syria Wednesday evening killing ISIS leader Abu Ibrahim al-Hashimi al-Qurayshi, President Biden announced Thursday morning.

Sources on the ground reported at least 13 fatalities during the raid, including six children and four women, according to the Syrian civil defense group the White Helmets. There were no US casualties, according to the Pentagon.

The Pentagon will conduct a more thorough after-action review of the Syria raid. But the senior administration official said that “at the beginning of the operation, the terrorist target exploded a bomb that killed him and members of his own family, including women and children." 

“While we are still assessing the results of this operation, this appears to be the same cowardly terrorist tactic we saw in the 2019 operation that eliminated al-Baghdadi,” the official said. 

 

8:53 a.m. ET, February 3, 2022

The US raid comes as various parts of Syria and Iraq have seen an ISIS resurgence 

From CNN's Oren Liebermann and Eyad Kourdi

US soldiers accompanied by members of the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) gather in the neighbourhood of Ghwayran in the northeastern Syrian city of Hasakeh, on January 29, as they search for prisoners believed to be affiliated with the Islamic State (IS) group, who had escaped from the Kurdish-held Sinaa prison (also known as Ghwayran prison) during an IS attack.
US soldiers accompanied by members of the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) gather in the neighbourhood of Ghwayran in the northeastern Syrian city of Hasakeh, on January 29, as they search for prisoners believed to be affiliated with the Islamic State (IS) group, who had escaped from the Kurdish-held Sinaa prison (also known as Ghwayran prison) during an IS attack. (AFP/Getty Images)

The US has repeatedly targeted al Qaeda and its affiliates in northwest Syria, with the Pentagon acknowledging at least one strike in recent months may have resulted in civilian casualties. But yesterday's operation was the largest in scale since a two-hour raid killed ISIS leader Baghdadi in northwest Syria in October 2019.

Last September, the military targeted a senior al Qaeda leader near Idlib, Syria, according to a statement from Central Command. One month later, the military carried out a drone strike against Abdul Hamid al-Matar, a senior al Qaeda leader, Central Command said.

And then in December, the military targeted Musab Kinan, a senior leader of al Qaeda affiliate Hurras al-Din, near Idlib. Central Command opened an investigation into the possibility of civilian casualties from the strike, but the Pentagon was unable to provide updates at the time.

Meanwhile, various parts of Syria and Iraq have seen an ISIS resurgence.

Last month, over 100 ISIS fighters attacked a prison in Syria's northeast in an attempt to free jailed members of the extremist group. At least 200 prison inmates and 30 security forces died in the clashes that followed the thwarted jail break.

8:29 a.m. ET, February 3, 2022

At least 13, including 6 children, killed in clashes after US raid

From CNN's Oren Liebermann and Eyad Kourdi

An aerial view of wreckage around the site after an operation carried out by US forces on February 3 in Idlib, Syria.
An aerial view of wreckage around the site after an operation carried out by US forces on February 3 in Idlib, Syria. (Izzeddin Kasim/Anadolu Agency/Getty Images)

At least 13 people were killed in clashes that took place during and after a US special forces raid that killed ISIS leader Abu Ibrahim al-Hashimi al-Qurayshi — including six children and four women, according to the Syrian civil defense group the White Helmets. There were no US casualties, according to the Pentagon.

Pentagon press secretary John Kirby said in a statement late Wednesday night that the mission was conducted by US Central Command, which controls military operations and activities in the Middle East.

"More information will be provided as it becomes available," the statement said.

The three-sentence Pentagon statement did not disclose a target for the special operations mission or whether there was any indication of civilian casualties. But witnesses and rescue workers told CNN that shelling and explosions preceded an airdrop of US forces shortly after midnight and targeted a house in the Syrian-Turkish border area of Atmeh, in the rebel enclave of Idlib.

One witness in Atmeh, who asked not to be named for security reasons, said that machine gunfire erupted from at least three helicopters flying overhead, followed by an explosion some minutes later. The area has a heavy presence of Hay'at Tahrir al-Sham (HTS) forces, that were formerly affiliated to al Qaeda.

"I heard from a distance a person who is speaking Arabic in an Iraqi accent asking for families to evacuate the area and they will be safe," said the witness. "I saw from a distance that there were machine guns shooting back from the ground towards the helicopters."

The witness said two of the three helicopters he saw landed an hour after the clashes began. "Around 3:20 a.m., the helicopters left and I saw a faraway light which looked like a fire," said the witness.

The witness also said he heard what sounded like drone strikes and said HTS forces were preventing civilians from entering the area.

CNN has reached out to Central Command.

8:23 a.m. ET, February 3, 2022

White House posts photo of Biden observing counterterrorism operation that killed ISIS leader

The White House posted a photo on Twitter of President Biden, Vice President Harris and national security team officials after the administration announced that ISIS leader Abu Ibrahim al-Hashimi al-Qurayshi was killed overnight in an operation in northern Syria.

In the picture, Biden, Harris and members of the national security team observe "the counterterrorism operation responsible for removing from the battlefield Abu Ibrahim al-Hashimi al-Qurayshi — the leader of ISIS."

8:29 a.m. ET, February 3, 2022

Biden says ISIS leader has been killed in a counterterrorism mission in northern Syria

US Special Forces conducted a counterterrorism mission in northwest Syria Wednesday evening, killing ISIS leader Abu Ibrahim al-Hashimi al-Qurayshi, President Joe Biden announced Thursday morning.

In a statement, Biden said:

"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. I will deliver remarks to the American people later this morning. May God protect our troops."

Biden is set to speak at 9:30 a.m. ET.

It was the the biggest US raid in the country since the 2019 operation that killed ISIS leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi.

Sources on the ground reported multiple fatalities. At least 13 people were killed in clashes that took place during and after the raid — including six children and four women — according to the Syrian civil defense group, the White Helmets. There were no US casualties, according to the Pentagon.