President Joe Biden on Thursday said an overnight raid by U.S. special forces in northwest Syria had resulted in the death of the leader of the Islamic State (ISIS) terrorism group, Abu Ibrahim al-Hashimi al-Qurayshi, in one of the most significant counterterrorism operations of his presidency to date.
“As our troops approached to capture the terrorist, in a final act of desperate cowardice, with no regard to the lives of his own family or others the building, he chose to blow himself up,” Biden said at the White House.
First responders at the scene reported 13 people had been killed, including six children and four women.
The operation, which residents say lasted about two hours, jolted the village of Atma near the Turkish border — an area dotted with camps for internally displaced people from Syria’s civil war. The target of the raid was not immediately clear.
“Last night’s operation took a major terrorist threat off the battlefield and has sent a strong message to terrorists around the world: We will come after you and find you,” Biden said
The state-run SANA news agency reported that at least 13 people, among them children and women, were killed in an airdrop operation carried out by U.S. occupation forces on Thursday in the vicinity of Atma village in the northern countryside of Idleb.
Local sources told SANA that an airdrop was launched from U.S. helicopters for U.S. special forces targeting some houses near Atma village. The U.S. forces raided and destroyed some houses after encircling them in the Atma area, north of Idleb along with drones’ shelling, killing at least 13 people, including six children and 3 women.
The sources added that the number of victims is expected to increase as there are people under the debris of the houses which were destroyed by the U.S. occupation forces.
A Syria TV (opposition) correspondent said that “negotiations took place last night between the U.S. forces and the residents of the house that was targeted in the anti-ISIS operation in Atma before storming it, through an Arabic-speaking translator.”
“According to the people’s account, the American forces landed 300 meters away from the targeted house, then ran overland towards it, forming a security cordon. After several negotiations took place, clashes erupted between those in the house and the American forces,” the reporter explained.
The reporter added that “the people close to the house were prevented from leaving their homes until the operation ended, but there were people who tried to reach the place, one of them drove his car to the place to see what was happening but was targeted by an American reconnaissance plane, which led to his death instantly.”
Baladi Network correspondent interviewed a woman who was evacuated from the same building in Atma.
The woman said that the operation began at about one AM, and began with calls for the building residents to leave their homes, then they fired a shell towards the door and fired heavy bullets.
The woman added that her husband and son were forced to leave after being threatened by the coalition forces with death if they refused to do so.
Coalition personnel kept them away from the building. They interrogated them about their neighbors in the building.
The woman accused the coalition personnel of beating her family members during the investigation.
She confirmed that the coalition did not call out a specific name during the building blockade.
She added that the person who lives on the second floor, with the name of Abu Ahmed, refused to surrender, and the coalition planes bombed his apartment, killing him with his wife and children, including a 15-day-old baby.
The operation had been planned for months.
UK leading newspaper The Guardian reports that Biden gave the final green light for the operation on Tuesday, but it had been planned for months.
After the first intelligence tip gave a lead on Qurayshi’s whereabouts late last year, the president approved a capture or kill operation. The intelligence agencies reached a certainty Qurayshi was at the site in early December and senior officers from the Pentagon brought a tabletop model to the White House to explain the complexity of the operation.
US planners were aware that civilian families had been moved into the first floor of the building, to act as human shields, and one of Qurayshi’s lieutenants with his family were living on the second floor.
From an analysis of the building, US officials were confident that even if Qurayshi blew up the third floor, it would not collapse the whole building. “I doubt he knew that,” one official said.
The Islamic State lieutenant and his wife on the second floor of the building exchanged fire with the US soldiers and were both killed. Officials said that some children from the second floor survived. Altogether eight children escaped.
A detailed report is being drafted by the US Administration to explain more details.