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Witnesses Describe US-Led Syria Raid: ‘Those Who Remain Will Die’

The neighbors had never heard anything like it.

Just after midnight, the whir of military helicopters flying low toward their homes in a pastoral stretch of northwestern Syria roused them from their sleep.

Then a voice rang out in Arabic from a loudspeaker, ordering the occupants of a nearby house to give themselves up, witnesses told a New York Times reporter at the scene.

“Those who want to take part in jihad, come out!” the voice said, according to a close neighbor who gave only his nickname, Abu Omar. “Everyone will be safe if you surrender. Those who remain will die.”

The United States has hailed the rare airborne raid by commandos in a rebel-held patch of Syria early Thursday as a major success against terrorism, saying it ended the life of the shadowy leader of the Islamic State, known as Abu Ibrahim al-Hashemi al-Qurayshi.

But for families living on the outskirts of the town of Atmeh, near Syria’s border with Turkey, the raid made for a night of fear and left a house full of dead neighbors they said they had never really known. At least 13 bodies were recovered from the rubble left by the raid, rescue workers said, including six children.

A man who gave his name as Abu Muhammad, one of four neighbors interviewed by The Times on Thursday, said that his family was so terrified by what they heard outside that they did not even peek out of the windows. Then they heard heavy banging on their door and opened it to find American commandos and an Arabic-speaking interpreter.

They were told they would not be harmed, and were directed to flee the house and hide behind another building until the confrontation was over, Abu Muhammad said. They did as they were told.

Abu Omar said the Americans did not attack the house right away, but kept trying to get its occupants to surrender. For a while, the voice on the loudspeaker addressed one woman who was apparently in the house with children.

“Come out, woman, and let the children have a chance to live,” Abu Omar said the voice said.

Later, the voice grew more urgent and threatening, saying the Americans were going to fire on the house if she did not come out, Abu Omar said.

He heard an explosion that he thought was a missile fired at the house and heavy gunfire.

That terrified his children, and he tried to reassure them, he said.

“The children would ask every once in a while, ‘What’s happening, Dad?’” he said. “I told them, ‘They are not going to hit us. They’re coming for another house.’”

After about 3 a.m., the neighbors said, they heard the helicopters fly off. When all was quiet, they emerged to see what had happened.

One neighbor, who asked to be identified only by his first name, Ahmed, said that he entered the house where the raid had happened and found the bodies of a woman and a child, and that the woman appeared to have killed them both with an explosive vest.

Abu Muhammad and his family left the place where the Americans had told them to hide and returned home, seeing the body of a dead child near the damaged house next door.

Soon, rescue workers came to dig the bodies out of the blood-spattered rubble. The neighbors collected other remains they found and buried them nearby.

“We have never had such an operation before,” said Jamil al-Dadu, 30, who heard the raid from the nearby refugee camp and came in the morning to see what had happened. “We did not expect there to be an American one.”

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