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US special forces kill ISIS leader in Syria raid, Biden says

“Thanks to the bravery of our Armed Forces, we have removed from the battlefield Abu Ibrahim al-Hashimi al-Qurayshi — the leader of ISIS,” the president said in a statement.

U.S. special forces carried out an overnight raid in northwestern Syria that killed Abu Ibrahim al-Hashimi al-Qurayshi, leader of the Islamic State terrorist group, President Joe Biden said Thursday.

“Last night at my direction, U.S. military forces successfully undertook a counterterrorism operation,” Biden said in a statement. “Thanks to the bravery of our Armed Forces, we have removed from the battlefield Abu Ibrahim al-Hashimi al-Qurayshi — the leader of ISIS.”

 “All Americans have returned safely from the operation,” he said.

The president said he would deliver further remarks on the operation later Thursday morning.

Al-Qurayshi died after detonating a suicide bomb that killed both him and several civilians, one U.S. official and one senior administration official told NBC News.

The senior administration official said the detonation killed members of the ISIS leader’s family, including children.

Local residents and first responders also described a dramatic overnight incident that left a number of people dead, including women and children.

At least 13 people were killed, among them six children and four women, in clashes and bombing that took place “after an American airdrop,” according to the local White Helmets rescue service.

“Our teams treated the injured and recovered the bodies” from the residence targeted in the operation, the volunteer relief group formally known as the Syrian Civil Defense said in a statement.

The U.S. official said that a military helicopter experienced a maintenance issue during the operation. It set down safely at least a mile away from the objective, but was deemed unsafe to fly back and was detonated on site, the official said.

Al-Qurayshi was named ISIS leader in October 2019 after his predecessor, Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, was killed in a U.S. raid in the same region earlier that month.

Al-Baghdadi also detonated a suicide bomb during the 2019 raid, killing himself and three of his children.

Helicopters roared suddenly early Thursday over the village of Atmeh, near the Turkish border in Syria’s rebel-held Idlib province, according to one resident who described an hourslong overnight standoff at a residential building that was subsequently reduced to rubble.

Atmeh, once a small and sleepy village known for its olive trees, has become home to a number of camps for those displaced by the country’s long-running civil war, and residents described a “terrifying” overnight incident on Thursday.

Mohamed al-Omar, 65, told NBC News that the building that was targeted belongs to his son, who has been living in Germany since 2016.

He said he had been renting the building out since his son’s departure.

A widow and her son had been living on the third floor, while her brother, his wife and their children had been living on the second, he said. Al-Omar said he believed they had all been killed overnight. He said he didn’t know if anyone living there had been involved in jihadist activity.

The third floor of the residential building had been completely destroyed in the raid, he said, while the second and first floors had been significantly damaged.

One neighbor said that he had been sleeping in his bedroom when he heard the sound of helicopters starting to get “stronger” and “louder” as they neared, describing it as “terrifying.”

“I looked out the window and saw the airdrop to my neighbor’s house,” said Abu Omar, 39, via WhatsApp message.

After that, he said he heard a voice booming through loudspeakers, warning those in the residence to “leave the house immediately” or be targeted.

The calls continued for about half an hour, he said, before gunshots could be heard followed by a final warning. Omar said a woman appeared to be speaking with those issuing the warning before the house “was bombed.”

Thursday’s operation came as ISIS 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.

Idlib is broadly controlled by Turkey-backed fighters, but is also an al-Qaida stronghold and home to several of its top operatives. Other militants, including rival ISIS extremists, have also found refuge in the area.

a has been gripped by over a decade of war, with the United Nations’ human rights office warning in September the conflict had already left more than 350,000 people dead, calling the figure “an undercount.”

The U.S. has previously used drones to target top Al Qaeda figures in Idlib, once home to many of the group’s leaders. The Pentagon has accused the group of using Syria as a base for threats within the country, as well as in neighboring Iraq and beyond.

The latest operation was the largest in northwestern Syria since the one that ended in al-Baghdadi’s death in October 2019.

American forces have continued to conduct airstrikes in Syria since then, including last year.

In October, a U.S. airstrike in the area killed a senior Al Qaeda leader, Abdul Hamid al-Matar, in an effort that the U.S. Central Command said would disrupt the group’s “ability to further plot and carry out global attacks threatening U.S. citizens, our partners, and innocent civilians.”

In December the U.S. and its military allies shot down a drone believed to pose a threat to a U.S. outpost in southern Syria, just weeks after the base was attacked by drones and rocket fire.

Chantal Da Silva reported from London, Ammar Cheikh Omar reported from Antakya, Turkey, Courtney Kube reported from Washington, and Phil Helsel reported from L.A.

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