Top pics: How US raided ISIS leader's compound in northern Syria

Updated: Feb 04, 2022, 09:51 AM(IST)

Al-Qurayshi caused the explosion killing himself and multiple family members, according to the US Defense Department. 

ISIS terrorist Al-Qurayshi blows himself up

The compound housing ISIS terrorist Al-Qurayshi in northwest Syria prior to a raid executed by US forces (top) and the same compound (bottom) after the raid.

Al-Qurayshi caused the explosion killing himself and multiple family members, according to the Defense Department. 

How it unfolded

By early December US intelligence was certain: the man occupying the top floor of a nondescript house in Atme, northern Syria -- who never left the premises, emerging only to bathe on the roof -- was the head of the Islamic State group.

In the White House Situation Room, a table-top model of the house was set up, and President Joe Biden was briefed on his options to neutralise Abu Ibrahim al-Hashimi al-Qurashi, one of America's most wanted jihadist targets.

US officials say they could have easily killed Qurashi -- whose location they had narrowed down last year before pinpointing it -- with a precision missile.


'Incredibly complex' operation

Biden chose a riskier course, said a senior US official briefing reporters Thursday, to reduce the possibility of killing the civilians also living in the three-level cinderblock home, set amid olive trees near the Turkish border.

The Special Operations Forces assault launched early Thursday was "incredibly complex," the official said, given several nearby homes and the presence of women and multiple children in the building.

In the end, as elite US troops surrounded the house calling for all inside to come out, Qurashi blew himself up along with his wife and two children -- an outcome the Americans had prepared for but hoped against.


'Fingerprint and DNA analysis confirmed'

The "massive" explosion ejected multiple people from the building including Qurashi, who was found dead on the ground outside the building, according to General Kenneth McKenzie, head of US Central Command.

"Fingerprint and DNA analysis had confirmed that he was Haji Abdullah," McKenzie said, using the Pentagon's name for Qurashi.

The operation had been repeatedly rehearsed in detail. Special forces trained for everything from a surrender to a firefight, and one possibility was that Qurashi would blow himself up.


Inside US raid on ISIS leader

US forces rehearsed the helicopter raid over and over, hoping to capture Islamic State's leader on the third floor of a residential building in a Syrian town on the Turkish border, where he was holed up with his family.

But before they could reach him, Abu Ibrahim al-Hashemi al-Quraishi detonated a suicide bomb, triggering a large explosion that blew mangled bodies -- including his own -- out of the building into the streets outside.

President Joe Biden, who monitored the raid from the White House's Situation Room, called Quraishi's suicide a "final act of desperate cowardice." It echoed of the self-detonation of a bomb by his predecessor, Islamic State founder Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, during a U.S. raid in 2019 in Syria.


ISIS terrorist in hideout

One official said the operation was complicated by the fact Quraishi rarely left his residence on the building's third floor and relied on couriers to interact with the outside world.

The number of children seen in the area and families believed to be living on the first floor led US officials to try to craft a mission aiming to safeguard civilians, they said.

That ultimately required putting US forces at risk in a raid, instead of launching a remote strike, the officials said. 

The operation team consulted engineers on the strength of the concrete building, the official said. They concluded with "high confidence" that an explosion would only destroy the top floor.

The hideout's location in Idlib province was just 15 kilometers north of where Qurashi's IS predecessor, Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, likewise killed himself in 2019 to avoid US capture.


Biden watched raid from Situation Room

The United States had placed a $10 million reward on Qurashi's head when he took the IS helm.

Early this week Biden was briefed on the situation, and gave the operational go-ahead Tuesday.

The raid went according to plan - almost.

As Biden, Vice President Kamala Harris, and other officials monitored in real time in the Situation Room, helicopters flew in US commandos who surrounded the building and warned off neighbors.

The team called on everyone to exit the building, and a couple and their children living on the first level emerged and were taken to safety, the senior official explained.


Top floor erupted with an explosion

Moments later, the top floor erupted with an explosion, tearing off half the structure but leaving the level below intact.

US forces began moving in, but a couple on the second floor barricaded themselves in their residence and began firing on them.

"The ISIS lieutenant and his wife were killed," the official said, without offering details, adding that four children emerged to be taken to safety.

After the raid open questions remained about how many people died.


Echoes of 2011 raid on Pak compound that killed Osama bin Laden

In operational terms, officials said, the only mishap was that one of the helicopters delivering commandos to the location developed mechanical problems and landed in a nearby field, where it was destroyed.

That echoed the 2011 raid on the Pakistan compound of Al-Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden, where a US helicopter crash-landed and had to be destroyed, due to sensitive technology onboard.


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