According to a White House statement released early Thursday morning, a raid conducted by the United States in Syria’s Idlib province killed Islamic State (ISIS) leader Abu Ibrahim al-Hashimi al-Qurayshi overnight. He took over as the head of ISIS back in 2019, after the old leader of the group, Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi died during a U.S. raid in the same area.
“Last night at my direction, U.S. military forces in the northwest Syria successfully undertook a counterterrorism operation to protect the American people and our Allies, and make the world a safer place,” President Joe Biden said in the statement. “All Americans have returned safely from the operation.” In his own statement, Pentagon spokesperson John Kirby said the raid was conducted by “U.S. Special Operations forces under the control of U.S. Central Command,” “the mission was successful” and “there were no U.S. casualties.”
According to a tweet from the Syrian group The White Helmets, “At least 13 people, including 6 children and 4 women, were killed.” Witnesses of the raid described it as a two-hour battle with gunmen involving what sounded like explosions, machine guns and drone strikes.
“The first moments were terrifying; no one knew what was happening,” said Jamil el-Deddo, a resident of a nearby refugee camp. “We were worried it could be Syrian aircraft, which brought back memories of barrel bombs that used to be dropped on us.”
Thursday’s raid was the largest since the one that took out al-Baghdadi. A U.S. official said al-Qurayshi died the same way al-Baghdadi did, by exploding a bomb that killed himself as U.S. forces approached.
The military has carried out at least two other missions targeting Al-Qaeda leaders in recent months in the area. Defense officials have admitted one of them may have resulted in civilian casualties, but have not confirmed that.
The Syria raid, and the killing of the ISIS leader, marked a military success for the U.S. at an important time. Setbacks elsewhere, including the chaotic Afghanistan withdrawal, have led allies and opponents to conclude America’s global power was weakening.