U.S. says Islamic State leader killed in Syria raid

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  • Biden says target of raid was IS leader
  • U.S. official says Quraishi killed
  • Northwestern Syria is haven for several jihadist groups

AMMAN/WASHINGTON, Feb 3 (Reuters) - The leader of the jihadist group Islamic State died in a U.S. special forces raid in northern Syria on Thursday when he detonated a bomb that killed him and family members, the U.S. administration said.

Abu Ibrahim al-Hashemi al-Quraishi had led the group since the death of its founder Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, who was also killed when he detonated explosives during a U.S. raid in 2019.

"Thanks to the skill and bravery of our armed forces, we have taken off the battlefield...the leader of ISIS. All Americans have returned safely from the operation," U.S. President Joe Biden said in a statement.

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Quraishi had remained largely in the shadows since succceeding Baghdadi who 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.

Since its defeat on the battlefield nearly three years ago, the group has been waging insurgent attacks in Iraq and Syria.

A senior U.S. administration official told Reuters Quraishi was killed in the raid.

"At the beginning of the operation the terrorist target exploded a bomb that killed him and members of his own family, including women and children," the official said.

Pentagon Press Secretary John Kirby earlier described Thursday's raid as a successful counter-terrorism mission, saying there were no U.S. casualties.

Syrian rescue workers said at least 13 people including six children and four women were killed by clashes and explosions that erupted after the raid began, targeting a house in the Atmeh area near the Turkish border.

U.S. military procedures to guard against civilian casualties are currently under scrutiny following a high-profile mistaken drone strike in Afghanistan that the Pentagon initially hailed a success.

A number of jihadist groups with links to al Qaeda operate in northwestern Syria, the last major bastion of rebels fighting President Bashar al-Assad in the decade-long Syrian war. Leaders of the Islamic State group have also hidden out in the area.

Residents said helicopters landed and heavy gunfire and explosions were heard during the raid that began around midnight. U.S. forces used loud speakers to warn women and children to leave the area, they said.

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Additional reporting by Susan Heavey, Humeyra Pamuk and Heather Timmons in Washington; Writing by Tom Perry and Dominic Evans; Editing by Angus MacSwan

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