Visual guide to deadly US raid targeting Islamic State leader in Syria

US says Abu Ibrahim al-Hashimi al-Qurayshi killed himself when he detonated explosives in home in Atme

Abu Ibrahim al-Hashimi al-Qurayshi took over as leader of Islamic State in 2019 following the deaths in quick succession of Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi and Baghdadi’s nominated successor Abu Hassan al-Muhajjir.

The US operation to try to kill him had been in the planning stages since early December, when officials became convinced that he was living in a nondescript three-storey building on the outskirts of Atme in Syria’s Idlib province, close to the Turkish border.

An image of a reward poster for information on the whereabouts of Qurayshi released by the US in July 2020.
A reward poster for information on Qurayshi’s whereabouts released by the US in July 2020.
Photograph: US state department/EPA

He and his family had been in the house for 11 months, according to his landlord. Qurayshi said he was from Aleppo and was carrying a Syrian ID. He moved in with three children, a wife and another woman whom he said was his sister.

The operation was complicated by the fact that Qurayshi was known to only rarely leave his residence on the building’s third floor, instead relying upon a network of couriers in order to interact with others. The only known exception was when he sometimes would go to the building’s roof to bathe, officials said.

Google Earth map showing Qurayshi residence

Administration officials said that President Biden approved the operation on Tuesday morning in the Oval Office. US special forces flew in from Erbil in Iraq, arriving at approximately 3am local time (1am GMT).

Map of Atme

A man speaking Arabic with an Iraqi accent through a loudspeaker told the occupants of the house that they had 15 minutes to surrender. People fled from the first of the building, and a short while later, according to the US, Qurayshi detonated explosives in his home, causing a blast so large that bodies were blown out on the ground.

After the blast, special forces stormed the building, where they opened fire on Qurayshi’s top lieutenant and his wife, who had barricaded themselves in their home on the second floor. Both were killed but four children were rescued.

Drone footage

Witnesses said the US troops were on the ground for more than two hours – a long time for a special forces operation.

A total of 13 people lay dead by the time the Americans left. It is not clear how many were killed by direct US fire, and how many died during the purported blast inside the house. A blood splatter near a large pool of congealed blood appeared to support the claim that a powerful blast had detonated near a person.

The compound housing Qurayshi before and after the raid.
The compound housing Qurayshi before and after the raid. Photograph: US department of defense/AFP/Getty Images

Biden later said that a raid rather than an airstrike had been ordered to minimise civilian casualties. He also claimed that the high death count was caused by the explosion inside the house, and not a US attack.

However, there was a significant discrepancy between the initial Pentagon report that eight children had been safely evacuated and two children were killed by the blast triggered by Qurayshi, and the accounts of first responders on the scene who say they found six children and four women dead.


“Some of the corpses in the area do not look like they died in an explosion. They look like they were hit by extremely heavy calibre gunfire,” Charles Lister, director of the Syria programme at the Middle East Institute in Washington, said.

A helicopter used to ferry forces to the scene suffered some form of malfunction, in circumstances that are not clear. It was destroyed by a circling US jet and the wreckage remains near the house.

The wreckage of the military helicopter.
The wreckage of the military helicopter. Photograph: Anadolu Agency/Getty Images

All troops returned safely to Erbil. Photos later circulated of the face of a dead man closely resembled a photograph of Qurayshi. American forensic experts took DNA samples of his body to match against samples they already had and Biden later confirmed the identification.

The precise version of events was still unclear hours after the attack. As is often the case in complex attacks carried out in the dark, it may be some time before clarity on who was killed and by whom is reached.

An aerial view of wreckages around the site after the US operation.
An aerial view of wreckages around the site after the US operation. Photograph: Anadolu Agency/Getty Images


Martin Chulov and Paul Torpey

The GuardianTramp

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