Biden addresses death of top ISIS leader in US-led raid

By Aditi Sangal, Adrienne Vogt, Melissa Macaya and Meg Wagner, CNN

Updated 0132 GMT (0932 HKT) February 4, 2022
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3:57 p.m. ET, February 3, 2022

White House coordinator for Middle East and North Africa warns next ISIS leader "is sure to meet the same fate"

From CNN's Sam Fossum

Brett McGurck, the White House coordinator for the Middle East and North Africa, described last night's raid that led to the death of ISIS leader Abu Ibrahim al-Hashimi al-Qurayshi aka "Hajji Abdullah" as going "almost exactly according to plan," and said that the US would continue to conduct further operations to contain ISIS.

"It did proceed almost exactly according to plan," McGurck told CNN's Victor Blackwell, although noting the mechanical issues which led to the controlled destruction of one US helicopter. 

McGurck also explained that President Biden was first briefed on the parameters of the potential mission about six weeks ago, earlier in December. 

"In that first briefing in December we went through in exquisite detail what would have to take place in order to do all we possibly could to care for those families on the first floor," McGurck said, referring to the civilians in the building with the ISIS leader. 

McGurck also had a warning for whoever takes over the organization following Qurayshi's death, saying that this is a "significant blow" to ISIS. He added that there would be follow up operations to continue to try and reduce ISIS' ability to conduct attacks. 

"Make no mistake, whoever ISIS names after Hajji Abdullah, he is sure to meet the same fate," McGurck said. 
3:33 p.m. ET, February 3, 2022

ISIS leader killed in US raid was a key figure in the slave trade of Yazidi women, NGO investigation finds

From CNN's Jomana Karadshe

The Commission for International Justice and Accountability (CIJA) said in a statement Thursday that they have been investigating ISIS leader Abu Ibrahim al-Hashimi al-Qurayshi aka "Hajji Abdullah" since 2015 and have evidence that he was heavily involved in the slave trade of women from Iraq's minority religious group, the Yazidi.

The non-governmental organization says their investigations on the ground in Syria and Iraq showed his potential criminal responsibility for war crimes, crimes against humanity, genocide, and other offenses such as human trafficking.

CIJA reports that Abdullah served as ISIS's senior judge and Sharia law official in Iraq from 2014, exercising religious authority over all ISIS activity across that country. According to Nerma Jelacic, Deputy Director of CIJA, “Hajji Abdullah had enormous power to persecute and punish IS’s enemies as far back as 2014. Not only was he one of the key architects of the Islamic State slave trade in Yazidi women and children, he personally enslaved and raped captive women.”

CIJA said that Hajji Abdullah was responsible for all Yazidi prisoners held in Iraq after they had been captured during ISIS’s Sinjar military operation in August 2014. He oversaw the distribution of Yazidi women, together with young children, to ISIS members as sabaya (female spoils of war). CIJA says he also was responsible for forced conversions of those it considered to be infidels to Islam and the massacre of hundreds of Yazidi men and boys.

He was killed Wednesday in a US counterterrorism raid in northwest Syria, President Joe Biden announced Thursday morning.

3:07 p.m. ET, February 3, 2022

Top general in Middle East: US forces found ISIS leader dead outside of building

From CNN's Ellie Kaufman

US forces found the ISIS leader killed during a US operation in Syria on Wednesday dead outside of the building where he was living after he detonated an explosive, Gen. Frank McKenzie, top US general of US Central Command, said during a Middle East Institute event on Thursday. 

"Because of the force of the self-initiated explosion on the third floor, US forces found the ISIS Amir dead on the ground outside the building," McKenzie said. 

US forces identified the ISIS leader with fingerprints and DNA analysis, McKenzie said. 

The explosive that Abu Ibrahim al-Hashimi al-Qurayshi detonated killed him, his wife and two of his children, Pentagon spokesperson John Kirby said during a briefing at the Pentagon earlier on Thursday. 

3:25 p.m. ET, February 3, 2022

Intent of US-led raid was to capture ISIS leader, top US general for Middle East says 

From CNN's Ellie Kaufman

 In this April 2018 file photo, then-Marine Lt. Gen. Kenneth "Frank" McKenzie speaks at the Pentagon.
 In this April 2018 file photo, then-Marine Lt. Gen. Kenneth "Frank" McKenzie speaks at the Pentagon. (Alex Brandon/AP)

The top general of US Central Command, Gen. Frank McKenzie, said the intent of the US-led operation in Syria on Wednesday was to “capture” ISIS leader Abu Ibrahim al-Hashimi al-Qurayshi.

“US Special Forces under the operational command of US central command conducted a long-range helicopter raid into northwest Syria into Idlib to capture the leader of ISIS, and I say capture the leader of ISIS, that was the intent of the mission,” McKenzie said during keynote remarks during a Middle East Institute event on Thursday. 

The operation ultimately led to al-Qurayshi’s death after he detonated a suicide bomb inside of the building.

“The expertly planned and executed mission that resulted in the death of Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi’s successor,” McKenzie said.

2:59 p.m. ET, February 3, 2022

Blinken: Death of ISIS leader a "significant victory in the global fight to disrupt and dismantle ISIS"

From CNN's Jennifer Hansler

(Susan Walsh/Pool/AFP/Getty Images)
(Susan Walsh/Pool/AFP/Getty Images)

Secretary of State Antony Blinken on Thursday released a statement calling the death of ISIS leader Abu Ibrahim al-Hashimi al-Qurayshi “a significant victory in the global fight to disrupt and dismantle ISIS.” 

“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,” Bliknen said.

“Throughout that process, the United States took extraordinary care to protect innocent lives and prevent noncombatant 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,” he added.

“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,” he continued. “Al-Qurayshi’s death strikes a significant blow against ISIS. Now the United States and our partners in the Global Coalition to Defeat ISIS will continue the effort. Our goal is the enduring defeat of ISIS and that fight continues.”

2:58 p.m. ET, February 3, 2022

US operation to kill ISIS leader took 2 hours, Pentagon says

From CNN's Ellie Kaufman

(Aeref Watad/AFP/Getty Images)
(Aeref Watad/AFP/Getty Images)

The US-led operation that killed ISIS leader Abu Ibrahim al-Hashimi al-Qurayshi on Wednesday took about two hours to complete from start to finish, Pentagon spokesperson John Kirby said during a news briefing at the Pentagon on Thursday.

The length of time US forces spent on the operation speaks to the “level of care that US special operations forces used in this mission, which was designed to preserve innocent life, to go to the site as they did,” Kirby said.

First, US forces secured and isolated the site, Kirby said. Then, US forces repeatedly encouraged people to leave the building where Qurayshi was, including Qurayshi himself. US forces called over a bullhorn and “made several call outs beseeching everybody in that building to leave,” Kirby said.

“That takes some time too, you want to make sure you make a good faith effort to do that, and we did,” Kirby said.

Then, when US forces heard an explosion on the third floor, and there was “engagement gunfire from the building,” US troops went in, Kirby said.  

“They were engaged, there was an explosion on the third floor, and engagement gunfire from the building and then they went in,” Kirby said.

Kirby said the two-hour timeframe was the original plan.

“Honestly from soup to nuts, the original plan was to have them there for two hours, and they were there for just about exactly two hours,” he added.

 

2:15 p.m. ET, February 3, 2022

4 civilians and 5 combatants were killed during US raid against ISIS leader, Pentagon says

From CNN's Oren Liebermann and Ellie Kaufman

Four civilians and five combatants were killed during a US raid that killed ISIS leader Abu Ibrahim al-Hashimi al-Qurayshi on Wednesday, Pentagon spokesperson John Kirby said during an on-camera press briefing on Thursday.

US special forces were able to evacuate 10 people, including eight children from the first and second floors of the building, Kirby said.

The Syrian civil defense group, the White Helmets, said 13 people were killed, including six children and four women. It remains unclear why there is such a wide discrepancy between the numbers provided by the Pentagon and the White Helmets.

The four civilians include Qurayshi’s wife and two children. Another child was also killed on the second floor, Kirby said, though he would not go into detail about how the child was killed.

The five combatants include Qurayshi, his deputy, his deputy’s wife and two others outside the compound who exchanged fire with US troops toward the end of the operation.

The Pentagon detailed how the civilians and combatants were killed as the operation unfolded.

During the raid, Qurayshi detonated “an explosive device,” which killed him, along with his wife and two children, Kirby said.

On the second floor, one of Qurayshi’s lieutenants opened fire at US forces who entered the building. The lieutenant and his wife were both killed when US forces returned fire. “It appears as though a child was also killed” on the second floor, Kirby said.

Toward the end of the two-hour operation, two more people were killed when a “group of individuals” approached the compound, Kirby said. The group was deemed “hostile” by US troops, “they were engaged,” and two of them were killed, he added. A senior defense official said helicopters targeted the two men, though the official said there may have been an exchange of fire on the ground as well. The rest of the group approaching US forces fled.

2:01 p.m. ET, February 3, 2022

Pentagon: ISIS leader was involved in recent Syrian prison break and killing of Yazidis in 2014

From CNN's Ellie Kaufman

(Stefani Reynolds/AFP/Getty Images)
(Stefani Reynolds/AFP/Getty Images)

ISIS leader Abu Ibrahim al-Hashimi al-Qurayshi was involved in a recent prison break in al-Hasakah, Syria, and he was also “directly involved in the massacre and the rape of innocent Yazidis back in 2014,” Pentagon spokesperson John Kirby said during a news briefing at the Pentagon on Thursday.

While the Pentagon has not identified a direct link between Qurayshi and the terrorist attack that killed US troops at Abbey Gate in Kabul during the US military withdrawal from Afghanistan in August, Kirby said Qurayshi was the “leader of ISIS, and it was an ISIS-K attack.”

“He was a hands-on kind of leader,” Kirby added.

1:02 p.m. ET, February 3, 2022

Key things to know about Abu Ibrahim al-Hashimi al-Qurayshi, the ISIS leader killed in the US raid in Syria 

From CNN's Tim Lister and Tamara Qiblawi

The head of ISIS died during a US raid in northwest Syria last night just as the extremist group was in the midst of a revival.

Abu Ibrahim al-Hashimi al-Qurayshi killed himself and his family after igniting a bomb at the beginning of the operation, according to a senior Pentagon official.

Qurayshi succeeded ISIS founder Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi in 2019 after his demise.

When Qurayshi took over the organization, the vast swaths of territory the group controlled — an area larger than the size of the United Kingdom at its peak — had largely vaporized. Observers dubbed him "a caliph without a caliphate," yet he sought to reinvigorate the organization.

In recent months, he oversaw a resurgence of ISIS in various parts of Syria, Iraq and Lebanon. Iraq reported an uptick in violence linked to ISIS. In the Kurdish-controlled northeastern part of Syria, the group staged a lethal days-long attempted jailbreak in a bid to free ISIS members. Hundreds of inmates, including children, died. Scores of Kurdish fighters also perished in the clashes.

In Lebanon, multiple regional and local reports have indicated that the group has been recruiting scores of members from the northern city of Tripoli, one of the areas hardest-hit by the country's devastating economic crisis.

Throughout it all, Qurayshi — who was known by several aliases — kept a low profile, much like his predecessor. The US Rewards for Justice program offered a reward of $10 million for information about him. His history in the organization is also murky. But snippets from interviews with ISIS prisoners paint a picture of a man with a dark past as a member of Baghdadi's inner-most circle.

Qurayshi became a "religious scholar" with al Qaeda in Iraq, before the group rebranded itself as the Islamic State. In 2014, he "helped drive and justify the abduction, slaughter, and trafficking of the Yazidi religious minority in northwest Iraq," the Rewards for Justice notice says.

Much of the Yazidi community lived in an area close to what some analysts believe was Qurayshi's home town of Tal Afar in northern Iraq. In 2014, after ISIS had taken Tal Afar and Mosul, the group enslaved thousands of Yazidi women and children and murdered thousands of Yazidi men, in what the United Nations has called a genocide.

Counterterrorism expert Daniele Raineri has noted that he was "the deputy who managed to spend the years since 2010 almost totally under the radar." But when others in the ISIS hierarchy were taken or died in battle, he became one of the group's leading ideologues.

Read more about Qurayshi and his role in ISIS here.