President Biden praised U.S. special forces for a raid in Syria that led to the death of the leader of ISIS, Abu Ibrahim al-Hashimi al-Qurayshi, who detonated an explosive that killed himself and members of his family at the beginning of the operation near the Turkish border.
"Thanks to the bravery of our troops, this horrible terrorist leader is no more," Mr. Biden said in remarks at the White House.
Describing the atrocities the ISIS leader perpetrated, the president said he authorized the raid to minimize the number of civilian casualties that would have resulted from an airstrike.
"Our team is still compiling the report, but we do know that 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 in the building, he chose to blow himself up, not just with the vest, but to blow up that 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," Mr. Biden said, referring to Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, who similarly blew himself up during a 2019 raid by U.S. forces.
According to the president, all American forces involved in the raid "have returned safely from the operation." Residents and outside monitoring groups reported a number of deaths, including women and children.
The president first announced the target's death in a statement Thursday morning.
Two senior administration officials told reporters on a conference call that the operation had been months in the making. Mr. Biden was briefed over a month ago when military officials were certain they had located the ISIS leader. The president gave the final go-ahead for the operation Tuesday in the Oval Office.
Al-Qurayshi, also known as Haji Abdullah, lived on the third floor in a residential building. He ventured outside only occasionally to bathe on the rooftop, and used innocent people as a "shield," one official said. At the time of the raid, an innocent family was located on the first floor, and an ISIS lieutenant and his family were on the second floor.
Before the operation started, troops called out for civilians to leave the building. The civilian family on the first floor, including four children, left before the operation began, according to the U.S. officials.
Al-Qurayshi detonated the explosive that killed himself, his wife and his children at the beginning of the raid, although the blast didn't collapse the building, senior administration officials said. Photos from the site show rubble on the collapsed third floor of the structure.
The ISIS lieutenant on the second floor barricaded himself and members of his family, and he and his wife were killed when they engaged with members of the assault force, a senior administration official said. Their children survived. In all, eight children were safely removed from the building, U.S. officials said.
In the planning process, the U.S. military was very concerned about the family living on the first floor, ignorant of the fact that an ISIS leader was living two floors above, officials said. The military was also concerned the whole building could collapse in an attack, and conducted engineering studies to analyze the danger of such a collapse. They knew it was possible al-Qurayshi may not have only been wearing a suicide vest, but also might have rigged the entire floor with explosives.
Al-Qurayshi was a more hands-on leader than his predecessor, and his engagement in coordinating the terror group's plans may have given him away. His lifestyle was similar to Osama bin Laden's — like the late al Qaeda leader, he almost never went out, trying to keep his physical profile as low as possible.
The White House released a photo of Mr. Biden and his national security team monitoring the operation from the White House Situation Room. Mr. Biden and Vice President Kamala Harris received real-time updates from Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin, Joint Chiefs Chairman Mark Milley and General Kenneth McKenzie, the commander of U.S. Central Command.
Officials did not provide a figure on how many civilians died in the raid, but said the numbers in some media reports didn't match the information they had. They stated multiple times that "all casualties at the site were due to the acts of ISIS terrorists inside the residence."
A U.S. helicopter experienced a mechanical issue and was flown to a site away from the target area, the officials added. The chopper was destroyed after it was determined that it couldn't make the return flight. The forces then boarded another helicopter to leave the country.