Biden says ISIS leader blew himself and family up during U.S. raid in Syria: 'A final act of desperate cowardice'
President Biden announced Thursday that Abu Ibrahim al-Hashimi al-Qurayshi, the leader of the violent Islamic State group, known as ISIS, blew himself up during an overnight raid carried out by U.S. military forces in northwest Syria.
“Last night, operating on my orders, the United States military forces successfully removed a major terrorist threat to the world, the global leader of ISIS,” Biden said in remarks from the Roosevelt Room hours after the White House released his statement on the late-night raid. “Thanks to the bravery of our troops, this horrible terrorist leader is no more.”
Al-Qurayshi, also known as Hajji Abdullah, took over as head of ISIS in 2019, days after the group’s former leader, Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, died during a U.S. raid in the same area.
“Since then, ISIS has directed terrorist operations targeting Americans, our allies and our partners, and countless civilians in the Middle East, Africa and in South Asia,” Biden said.
The president said al-Qurayshi “oversaw the spread of ISIS-affiliated terrorist groups around the world” and was the “driving force” behind the genocide of Yazidis in northwestern Iraq in 2014.
“We all remember the gut-wrenching stories, the mass slaughters that wiped out entire villages,” Biden said. “Thousands of women and young girls sold into slavery; rape used as a weapon of war.”
Biden said that al-Qurayshi died just like al-Baghdadi — by exploding a bomb that killed himself and members of his family, including women and children, as U.S. forces approached.
“In a final act of desperate cowardice, with no regard to the lives of his family or others in the building, he chose to blow himself up … taking several members of his family with him — just as his predecessor did,” Biden said.
The president said he had directed the Department of Defense to “take every precaution possible to minimize civilian casualties.”
“Knowing this terrorist had chosen to surround himself with families, including children, we made a choice to pursue a special forces raid, with greater risk to our own people, rather than targeting him with an airstrike,” Biden explained.
On Thursday, Syria Civil Defense, an aid group also known as the White Helmets, said that at least 13 people had been killed during the operation, including four women and six children. The group did not provide further details on the identities of those killed.
Pentagon spokesman John Kirby said that at least three civilians were killed during the raid, but added that U.S. forces "succeeded in protecting more than 10 women, children and babies."
A helicopter that suffered mechanical problems was "abandoned and detonated" by U.S. troops, Kirby said.
Before his White House remarks, Biden said in a statement that "all Americans have returned safely from the operation.”
Kirby confirmed that there were no American casualties. One of al-Qurayshi's lieutenants and the lieutenant's wife exchanged gunfire with U.S. forces, Kirby said, and they were both killed along with a child.
In a statement, Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin said that "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."
"We're always mindful of the potential for civilian harm," Kirby said. "And while the strong indications are here that the lives taken in this operation, the lives of innocents taken in this operation, were caused by Abdullah and his decision to blow himself up and everybody else with him on that third floor, as well as the resistance of his lieutenant on the second floor, we're willing to take a look, to examine and make sure that there wasn't any action that we might have taken that could have also caused harm to innocents."
Late last year, the New York Times reported that a U.S. airstrike in Syria in 2019 killed dozens of women and children. In November, the Pentagon ordered a high-level investigation into the strike.
“Last night's operation took a major terrorist leader off the battlefield,” Biden said at the conclusion of his remarks. “And it sent a strong message to terrorists around the world: We will come after you and find you.”