Portugal Colonial - Biden says 'major terrorist' blew himself up in US raid

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Biden says 'major terrorist' blew himself up in US raid
Biden says 'major terrorist' blew himself up in US raid

Biden says 'major terrorist' blew himself up in US raid

President Joe Biden said Thursday a global "terrorist threat" was removed when the head of the Islamic State group blew himself up after US special forces swooped on his Syrian hideout in an "incredibly challenging" nighttime helicopter raid.

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"The United States military forces successfully removed a major terrorist threat to the world, the global leader of ISIS," Abu Ibrahim al-Hashimi al-Qurashi, Biden said in nationally televised remarks.

The operation dealt the biggest setback to the jihadist IS organization since Qurashi's predecessor, the better-known Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, was killed in a US commando raid in the same Syrian region of Idlib in 2019.

In brief, somber remarks delivered in the White House's Roosevelt Room, Biden said he ordered an assault by troops, rather than merely bombing the house where the IS leader was located, in order to minimize civilian casualties, even though this meant " much greater risk to our own people."

The house contained "families, including children" and "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," Biden said.

Qurashi did not merely set off a suicide vest to kill himself, but detonated the entire "third floor" of the residence in the town of Atme, Biden said, "taking several members of his family with him."

An Iraqi from the Turkmen-majority city of Tal Afar, Qurashi was also known as Amir Mohammed Said Abd al-Rahman al-Mawla. He replaced Baghdadi after his death in a US raid in October 2019, which also ended when Baghdadi blew himself up.

The US government had offered a $10 million reward for information leading to Qurashi, one of the world's most wanted fugitives.

The head of the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, Rami Abdel Rahman, told AFP that "13 people at least were killed, among them four children and three women, during the operation."

- Rent paid -

Initial reports that followed the operation near the town of Atme had suggested the target might have been a senior jihadist close to IS' rival group Al-Qaeda.

AFP correspondents were able to visit the house thought to be where Qurashi blew himself up.

Before the identity of the raid's target emerged, the owner of the building where Qurashi was staying described his tenant as leading an ordinary life.

"This guy lived here for 11 months. I didn't see anything suspicious or notice anything," the landlord, who gave his name only as Abu Ahmad, told AFP.

"He would come and pay the rent and leave. He lived with his three children and his wife. His widowed sister and her daughter were living above them," he said.

A witness told AFP he woke to the sound of helicopters.

"Then we heard small explosions. Then we heard stronger explosions," Abu Ali, a displaced Syrian living in Atme said, adding that US forces told residents "not to worry".

"We're just coming to this house... to rid you of the terrorists," the man quoted the US forces as saying in their loudspeaker messages.

The American helicopters took off from a military base in the Kurdish-controlled city of Kobani, Abdel Rahman said.

Elite, US-trained members of the Kurdish-led Syrian Democratic Forces joined the operation, he added.

Farhad Shami, who heads the media office of the US-backed SDF, said the operation targeted "the most dangerous international terrorists".

Kurdish forces had also taken part in the raid against Baghdadi in 2019.

- Fierce battle -

The two-story building of raw cinder blocks bore the scars of an intense battle, with torn window frames, charred ceilings and a partly collapsed roof.

In some of the rooms, blood was splattered high on the walls and stained the floor, littered with foam mattresses and shards from smashed doors.

US special forces have carried out several operations against high-value jihadist targets in the Idlib area in recent months.

The area, the last enclave to actively oppose the government of Bashar al-Assad, is home to more than three million people and is dominated by jihadists.

The region is mostly administered by a body loyal to Hayat Tahrir al-Sham, a group led by former members of what was once Al-Qaeda's franchise in Syria.

Atme is home to a huge camp for families displaced by the decade-old conflict and which experts have warned was being used by jihadists as a place to hide among civilians.

On October 23, the US military announced the killing of senior Al-Qaeda leader Abdul Hamid al-Matar.

The death of the jihadist group's top leader comes two weeks after the group staged a huge attack to spring IS fighters from a Kurdish-run prison in northeastern Syria.

Hundreds were killed in what was IS's most high-profile operation since the demise of its "caliphate" nearly three years earlier.