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Biden says U.S. raid in Syria killed 'horrible' ISIS leader with 'signature precision'

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Biden says U.S. raid in Syria killed 'horrible' ISIS leader with 'signature precision'
People check a destroyed house after an operation by the U.S. military in the Syrian village of Atmeh, in Idlib province, Syria, Thursday, February. 3, 2022. U.S. special forces carried out what the Pentagon said was a successful, large-scale counterterrorism raid in northwestern Syria early Thursday. President Joe Biden said on 03 February that a U.S. raid in Syria killed Abu Ibrahim al-Hashimi al-Qurayshi - the leader of ISIS. . Photo by Abdulaziz KETAZ/UPI | License Photo

Feb. 3 (UPI) -- U.S. forces conducted a counter-terrorism mission in northwest Syria late Wednesday that killed the leader of the Islamic State terrorist group, U.S. President Joe Biden said Thursday.

Special forces units were involved in the raid in the village of Atmeh near Syria's border with Turkey. A U.S. military helicopter was also destroyed on the ground during the raid, officials said.

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Abu Ibrahim al-Hashimi al-Qurayshi, who was killed in the raid, became the second ISIS leader in October 2019. He ascended to the top spot after the first leader, Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, detonated a suicide bomb during a different U.S. raid in Syria.

His identity was confirmed through fingerprints taken on site and DNA analysis, the Pentagon said, adding his body was left at the site.

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Biden said al-Qurayshi died after detonating a suicide bomb as U.S. special forces closed in, also killing some of his family members and others in the building.

President Joe Biden speaks on Thursday in the Roosevelt Room of the White House in Washington, D.C., to announce the death of Islamic State leader Abu Ibrahim al-Hashimi al-Qurayshi in northwestern Syria. Photo by Al Drago/UPI

The rescue service Syrian Civil Defense, known as the White Helmets, said that 13 people died in the raid, including six children and four women.

In an address late Thursday morning, Biden said U.S. forces chose to conduct the special forces operation rather than a drone strike to minimize civilian casualties. He blamed al-Qurayshi for conducting attacks against U.S. forces and allies dating back to 2014.

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"Thanks to the bravery of our troops this horrible terrorist leader is no more," Biden said. "Our forces carried out the operation with their signature preparation and precision."

Biden noted that the Pentagon is still compiling a report on the raid, and called al-Qurayshi's decision to blow up the third floor of the home a "final act of desperation."

"He chose to blow himself up, not just with his vest, but to blow up the third floor rather than face justice for the crimes he has committed, taking several members of his family with him just as his predecessor did."

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Baghdadi fled from U.S. military personnel during a 2019 U.S. military operation in Syria and detonated a suicide vest in a dead-end tunnel, killing himself and three children.

The U.S. military has used drones in the past to target al-Qaida leaders in Idlib, which had been the militant group's Syria base at one time. The Pentagon said the terrorists were using Syria to launch attacks into Iraq and other locations.

"Last night at my direction, U.S. military forces in northwest Syria successfully undertook a counter-terrorism operation to protect the American people and our allies, and make the world a safer place," Biden said in a statement earlier Thursday.

Wednesday's helicopter raid was similar to the one in 2019 that killed al-Baghdadi. U.S. forces used loudspeakers ordering everyone inside a target home to surrender and leave. When no one did, the assault on the home began.

Pentagon press secretary John Kirby told reporters later Thursday that the plan was months in the making, including physical rehearsals involving dozens of special forces and tabletop planning.

The decision to conduct a raid protected the lives of 10 people, including eight children, four of whom were on the second floor, who were evacuated from the building, he said.

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Among those confirmed dead are al-Qurayshi's wife and two children who were on the third floor when he detonated his vest, he explained.

On the second floor, U.S. forces were met with gunfire from one of al-Qurayshi's lieutenants and the lieutenant's wife, resulting in their deaths and that of a child, he said.

"While the strong indications are that ... the lives of innocents taken in this operation were caused by Abdullah and his decision of blowing himself up and everybody else with him on the third floor, as well as the resistance of his lieutenant on the second floor, we're willing to take a look to just examine and make sure that there wasn't any action that we might have taken that could have also caused harm to innocents," he said, referring to al-Qurayshi by his other name, Hajji Abdullah.

Two people among a group of individuals who approached the site near the end of the two-hour operation were deemed hostile and were killed, he added.

The helicopter, he explained, experienced a drivetrain malfunction early in the mission, forcing it to land away from the target location where it was detonated after Gen. Kenneth McKenzie, commander of U.S. Central Command, made the decision to abandon the aircraft.

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Concerning the future of ISIS, Kirby said the death of al-Qurayshi is a significant blow to the terrorist group's operations.

"This is not something that we believe ISIS is going to be able to just get over real quickly and real easily," he said

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