Rise to Peace blog

An Update on Syria: The Execution of an ISIS Leader and Prison Attacks

In recent news, U.S. efforts against the leader of ISIS, Abu Ibrahim al-Hashimi al-Qurayshi, resulted in his death via airstrike and was recently reported by the Head of the United Nations Office of Counter-Terrorism. Despite the death of the ISIS leader, the international community must remember the show of strength ISIL displayed this past January in north-east Syria when they attacked a prison.

The Attack and Collateral Damages 

ISIL’s prison attack occurred on January 20, 2022, lasting for a few days and greatly impacting Syria. The attack attempted to release fighters from al-Hasaka prison, highlighting the need to swiftly bring them to trial and hold ISIL fighters accountable. Ultimately, while the military is an effective tool to combat terrorism, it alone is not sufficient to address all of terrorism’s intricate facets.

Specifically, an example of immediate action stems from ISIS fighters attacking a Syrian prison, which housed some 3,000  fighters and 700 children. While this event was foreseeable, due to the nature of the target, attacks such as this can be minimized through urgent action amongst the entire international community to combat those suspected of being associated with extremist groups in Syria’s prisons and camps.  Deputy Secretary-General Vladimir Voronkov told the UN Security Council that the Islamic State group “emphasized and called for a break in prisons.”

The Result of an Overnight Raid

On early Thursday morning, February 3rd, U.S. President Biden said the ISIS leader, Abu Ibrahim al-Hashimi al-Quraishi, was killed in an airstrike conducted by U.S. Special Forces in northwest Syria, killing at least 13 people in the raid. President Biden addressed the use of special forces to attack the ISIS leader, stating that the choice was a tactical decision to minimize civilian casualties, despite a greater risk to U.S. troops.

However, initial reports indicate that al-Quraish installed an explosive device in his apartment on the third floor of the building, which killing several people, according to President Biden and Pentagon officials.

While speaking in the Roosevelt Room of the White House, President Biden explained the story of the ISIS leader, saying that he had ordered a series of atrocities involving the Yezidi. “Thanks to the courage of our soldiers, this terrible terrorist leader no longer exists,” President Biden stated.

Overall, al-Quraish did not initially appear to be a major problem. Intelligence officials spotted him sometime last year while tracking a package in Syria. However, the withdrawal of U.S. troops from Afghanistan in the midst of locating al-Quraish did not appear to be a major problem.

Current Situation and Outcomes

Undersecretary-General Voronkov of the U.N. Security Council urges states to repatriate suspected ISIS fighters and their families from prisons and concentration camps in northeastern Syria. “The repatriation of third country nationals from Syria and Iraq remains a major priority for the United Nations and we stand ready as a reliable partner to member states in responding to these challenges,” Voronkov said.

Although the United Nations has made tremendous progress against ISIS, the group continues to pose threats, so the United Nations must remain vigilant and active.

U.S. Forces are stationed in Syria as part of the United Nations, however, all countries must work with them in the fight against ISIS. In particular, countries should also support the United Nations Global Framework for Refugee Assistance in Syria and Iraq, which was launched in 2021.

While the Russian Federation representative said ISIS fighters raided al-Sina’aprison, ultimately, anyone responsible for the crimes against innocent Syrians should be held accountable. The United Nations and humanitarian partners must demand a full account of any civilian casualties. Syrian forces backed by Moscow will continue to search and attack terrorist groups in Syria.

For 2022, we should anticipate a response from the U.S. and a general, more drastic change of tactics from the previous ones. Now, it is the time to systematically focus and help solve Syria’s dramatic conditions and future threats.


Katerina Rebecca Paraskeva, Counter-Terrorism Research Fellow

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