‘Desperate cowardice’: IS terrorist leader blows himself up as US special forces raid house in Syria

The leader of jihadist group Islamic State has blown himself up in a “final act of desperate cowardice” as US special forces raided a house in north-west Syria, US President Joe Biden has announced.

Abu Ibrahim al-Hashemi al-Quraishi was killed along with members of his own family, including women and children, when he let off a bomb that ripped through a floor of the residential building.

Mr Biden said special forces chose a raid to hunt down the terrorist leader rather than an air strike to minimise civilian casualties because Quraishi had surrounded himself with families.

“As our troops approached to capture the terrorist – in a final act of desperate cowardice, he – with no regard to the lives of his own family or others in the building – chose to blow himself up,” Mr Biden said.

“Not just with a vest but … blow up that third floor rather than face justice for the crimes he has committed, taking many of his family with him, just as his predecessor did.”

Neither Mr Biden nor US officials provided a death toll but Syrian rescue workers said at least 13 people were killed, including six children and four women.

The Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, an opposition war monitor, said the attack killed nine people, including two children and a woman.

Mr Biden had earlier watched the raid from the White House’s situation room.

The jihadist’s body was identified through fingerprints and DNA.

“Thanks to the skill and bravery of our armed forces, we have taken off the battlefield Abu Ibrahim al-Hashimi al-Qurayshi — the leader of ISIS,” Mr Biden said.

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

Quraishi had led IS since the death in 2019 of its founder Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi. He was also killed when he detonated explosives during a raid by US commandos.

The operation, which residents say lasted about two hours early on Thursday (local time), jolted the sleepy village of Atmeh near the Turkish border – an area dotted with camps for internally displaced people from Syria’s civil war.

Residents said helicopters landed and heavy gunfire and explosions were heard during the raid that began around midnight.

US forces used loud speakers to warn women and children to leave the area, they said.

Mr Biden and US officials described Quraishi as the “driving force” behind the 2014 genocide of minority Yazidis in northern Iraq and said he oversaw a network of IS branches from Africa to Afghanistan.

Since its defeat on the battlefield nearly three years ago, IS in Iraq and Syria – also known as ISIS – has waged insurgent attacks in both countries.

The most recent was last month when its fighters stormed a prison in north-eastern Syria housing IS suspects.

A damaged room and windows after the US operation. Photo: AAP

Local leaders, security officials and residents in northern Iraq say it has re-emerged as a deadly threat, aided by a lack of central control in many areas.

Quraishi, a 45-year-old Iraqi, had remained largely in the shadows since taking charge of the movement. Baghdadi led the group at the height of its self-declared caliphate, when it controlled swathes of Syria and Iraq and ruled over millions of people.

“Quraishi’s killing is a huge deal and a huge blow to ISIS because ISIS never heard from this new leader,” Syria analyst Hassan Hassan said.

“I think ISIS will continue to be weak and under pressure as long as the Americans are on the ground in Iraq and Syria and involved because the US serves as feet on a spring: Once you step off, it sort of bounces back.”

Quraishi was hiding in a region of Syria that is home to several militant groups, including Huras al-Din, or Guardians of Religion.

US forces have for years used drones to target jihadists in the area. Thursday’s operation appeared to be the largest by US forces in the north-west since the raid that killed al-Baghdadi, said Charles Lister, a senior fellow with the Washington DC-based Middle East Institute.

-with AAP

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