By late December, the commandos were ready and Mr. Biden approved the mission. But bad weather in northwestern Syria and a desire to carry out the mission on a moonless night pushed the operation to Feb. 2.
The American assault in Atmeh, backed by Apache helicopter gunships and armed MQ-9 Reaper drones, resembled the raid in October 2019 in which Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, the previous leader of the Islamic State, died when he detonated a suicide vest as U.S. forces raided a hide-out not far from where last week’s operation took place.
American officials alerted Israel, Turkey and Russia, which has troops based in northwestern Syria, shortly before the mission was underway to avoid any accidental contact, the officials said.
American officials have previously said Mr. al-Qurayshi, also known as Hajji Abdullah, lived with his wife and two children on the building’s third floor. He left the building only occasionally to bathe on the rooftop. He relied on a top lieutenant who lived on the building’s second floor and who, along with a network of couriers, carried out his orders to ISIS branches in Iraq, Syria and elsewhere in the world. A Syrian family with no apparent connection to the terrorist group was living on the first floor.
Shortly after the commandos arrived just after midnight, warnings shouted in Arabic over bullhorns urged occupants on the first floor — as well as anyone else — to evacuate. A man, a woman and four children fled the first floor.
At almost the same time, a huge explosion — much bigger than a suicide vest with 5 to 10 pounds of explosive, officials said on Thursday — ripped through the third floor. The blast was so powerful that bodies, including Mr. al-Qurayshi’s, were blown out the window.
Mr. Biden said last week that Mr. al-Qurayshi died when the terrorist exploded a bomb that killed him as well as members of his family. Military officials said on Thursday that they had no proof that Mr. al-Qurayshi detonated the bomb but thought so, given his position. The officials emphasized that the U.S. commandos did not attack the third floor or detonate any explosives, and caused none of the casualties.
After the blast, commandos stormed the building and engaged in a firefight with Mr. al-Qurayshi’s lieutenant and his wife, who were barricaded on the second floor with their children. Both died, as did one child, but four children were safely evacuated, U.S. officials said.