image Photo: Reuters

ISIS leader dies in US raid on Syria

Abu Ibrahim al-Hashemi al-Quraishi detonated a bomb upon the approach of United States Special Forces led by Central Command (CENTCOM), killing himself and several family members.

By Erin Viner

Rescue workers said 13 people died including 4 women 6 children died in the blast, while military officials said no American commandos were wounded during 2-hour gun battle in an extremist stronghold of northwest Syria near Idlib overnight Thursday.

Israel “was involved” in the US effort to track down the Islamic State chief, according to unnamed foreign sources cited by Israel’s Channel 13.

“It can be assessed, according to security sources, that Israel assisted in the intel tracking” that “helped – utilizing its sources in Syria – to create that intelligence window” that allowed the US to act, reported the network.

The fallen ISIS leader’s real name was Amir Mohammed Abdul Rahman al-Mawli al-Salbi. “Quraishi” was a nom de guerre meant to convey lineage from the Prophet Mohammed as previously professed by his predecessor Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, whose name at birth was Ibrahim Awad Ibrahim Ali al-Badri al-Samarrai; and also died while blowing up himself and family members during a US raid in 2019 on a hideout in northern Syria.

Quraishi was a 45-year-old Iraqi national who largely remained in the shadows.

The blast was so big it blew bodies out of the 3-storey building where Quraishi was located into surrounding streets in the town of Atmeh, said US officials while blaming Islamic State for all civilian casualties.

US President Joe Biden, who ordered the raid, said: “Thanks to the bravery of our troops, this horrible terrorist leader is no more.”

During special remarks from the White House, Biden said the world is rid of a man he described as the “driving force” behind the “genocide of the Yazidi people in northwestern Iraq in 2014,” that included the obliteration of villages, enslavement of thousands of women and young girls and utilized rape as as a weapon of war; while overseeing a network of Islamic State branches from Africa to Afghanistan.

“Last night’s operation took a major terrorist leader off the battlefield and has sent a strong message to terrorist around the world: We will come after you and find you,” Biden said.

Quraishi’s death is another setback for Islamic State nearly three years after its self-declared “Caliphate” was defeated by US and Iraqi forces.

CENTCOM Chief General Kenneth McKenzie, who commanded the US operation, emphasized during virtual remarks to the Middle East Institute that the objective of the “expertly planned and executed mission” was Quraishi’s capture. He also confirmed that there were no American casualties during the raid.

“The greatest terrorist threat to the United State remains the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria,” warned Gen. McKenzie, stressing, “For all of the progress we made against ISIS in Iraq, the danger has not passed. Far from it. Denied a contiguous territorial base from which to sustain its campaign of terror, ISIS has nevertheless reconstituted as an asymmetric threat operating from austere, forbidding corners from Iraq and along the seams from Syria’s Civil War, ISIS continues to terrorize the innocent populations of both countries whenever they can, while hatching plans and marshalling the resources for renewed external operations against the United States and our friends abroad.”

According to a statement TV7 received from the US State Department, Secretary of State Antony Blinken hailed “the military operation authorized by President Biden and carried out by US forces” that resulted in Qurayshi’s death as “a significant victory in the global fight to disrupt and dismantle ISIS.”

The top US diplomat added that, “This successful operation is a credit to our brave service members and national security professionals, who undertook this mission at President Biden’s direction after months of careful planning. Throughout that process, the United States took extraordinary care to protect innocent lives and prevent non-combatant casualties. ISIS, however, once again revealed its disregard for human life, including that of women and children, when al-Qurayshi choose to detonate a suicide bomb, killing his own family.”

Blinken went on to stress that Qurayshi “was known for his brutal enforcement of ISIS’s vicious ideology and was a driving force behind ISIS’s violent campaigns to subjugate communities and oppress perceived enemies, including the Yazidis, a religious minority in Iraq. He coordinated the group’s global terror operations during a period in which ISIS expanded its geographic presence and attacks in Africa.”

Saying that “this operation was part of a larger mission by the members of the Global Coalition to Defeat ISIS to deny ISIS’s territorial control in Iraq and Syria, counter ISIS’s messaging and financing, and stabilize areas that have been liberated from ISIS to prevent the group from resurging,” Secretary Blinken reiterated that Qurayshi’s death “strikes a significant blow against ISIS” and vowed that Washington and its partners will continue their effort toward a goal of “the enduring defeat of ISIS.”

The terror group, also known as ISIS or its Arabic acronym Daesh, has waged insurgent attacks in Iraq and Syria since that time; most recently when armed gunmen stormed a prison in northeastern Syria housing ISIS convicts last month.

Baghdadi led the radical Islamic group at the height of its power, when it launched a lightning expansion in 2014 that shocked the world. It took control of large areas of Syria and Iraq, ruling over millions of people with a iron fist and inspiring attacks in the West.

The lethal raid against Quraishi, carried by 50 US commandos transported by helicopter, helps restore some of the Biden administration’s foreign policy credentials after it was widely criticized for last year’s messy withdrawal from Afghanistan.

Residents in Atmeh, near the Syrian-Turkish border, reported sounds of heavy gunfire and explosions during the operation, which began around midnight. They also said that American forces used loudspeakers to warn women and children to immediately vacate the area.

Local leaders, security officials and residents in northern Iraq say ISIS is re-emerging as a deadly threat, aided by a lack of central control in many sectors. Mid-2019, the US-led coalition combatting ISIS estimated that the terror group still consisted of 14,000-18,000 members.

Syria is used as a base for several militant groups including an al Qaeda-affiliated faction whose leaders include foreign fighters.