Ayman al-Zawahiri killed, Biden says; al-Qaeda leader was Osama bin Laden’s number two

Al Qaeda leader Ayman al-Zawahiric was killed in a drone strike during a U.S. counter-terrorism operation last weekend, President Joe Biden announced Monday night.

“He has charted a trail of murder and violence against American civilians, American military personnel, American diplomats and American interests,” President Biden said in his brief remarks from the White House balcony. ‘Now justice has been done. And this terrorist leader is no more.’

The president said al-Zawahiri was assassinated in Kabul.

“After years of relentlessly searching for Zawahiri under Presidents Bush, Obama and Trump, our intelligence community located Zawahiri earlier this year,” Mr Biden said. “He had moved to downtown Kabul to reunite with members of his immediate family.”

The US government had multiple, independent sources confirming al-Zawahiri’s whereabouts at a hiding place, a senior official told reporters on a phone call Monday night. The strike was the result of careful, patient and persistent work by counter-terrorism officials over months and years.

The president said that after considering “clear and compelling evidence” of al-Zawahiri’s location, he “authorized a precision strike that would remove him from the battlefield once and for all”. A week ago, he gave his final approval to ‘go get it’.

Al-Zawahiri was eventually taken out by a drone at 9:48 p.m. ET Saturday, while he was on the balcony of the safehouse and his family members were in different rooms of the house.

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House in Kabul where a US drone strike killed al-Qaeda leader Ayman al-Zawahiri on July 30, 2022.

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“None of his family members were injured and there were no civilian casualties,” the president said. The US government is very confident that no one else was killed in the strike, the senior government official said.

The senior government official said the president received regular updates when the US government targeted al-Zawahiri. Once the safehouse was found, the president wanted to learn more about the layout of the safehouse doors and windows to avoid other victims. At a July 25 meeting, the president authorized a precise, tailor-made airstrike that would minimize civilian casualties, the senior government official said.

With the death of al-Zawahiri, all the top conspirators of the September 11, 2001, terrorist attacks are now dead or captured.

The FBI on Monday updated the “Most Wanted Terrorist” poster with al-Zawahiri’s status: “Deceased.”

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FBI “Most Wanted Terrorist” poster for Ayman al-Zawahiri updated to say he passed away August 1, 2022.

FBI


The president spoke of his visits to Shanksville, Penn., and Ground Zero in New York last year, on the 20th anniversary of the 9/11 attacks, and said seeing the names of those who died in the attack in etched bronze was a reminder of the vow Americans took to “never forget.”

Biden said he hoped the action taken against al-Zawahiri will bring “an extra measure” to those who lost loved ones on 9/11.

The strike came almost a year after US troops withdrew from… Afghanistan, which the president did not miss. The Biden administration has long argued that it can continue to tackle terrorist threats against the American people without boots on the ground in Afghanistan, from “over the horizon.”

US President Joe Biden makes comments about the assassination of Al Qaeda leader Ayman al-Zawahiri in a US drone strike
President Joe Biden addresses the nation over the assassination of Al Qaeda leader Ayman al-Zawahiri in a US drone strike on August 1, 2022.

POOL / REUTERS


“When I ended our military mission in Afghanistan almost a year ago, I made the decision that after 20 years of war, the United States no longer needed thousands of boots in Afghanistan to protect America from terrorists who want to harm us,” said Mr. Biden: “I promised the American people that we would continue to conduct effective counter-terrorism operations in Afghanistan and beyond. That’s exactly what we’ve done.”

Two intelligence sources familiar with the case said the attack was carried out by the CIA.

The president, who tested positive with a rebound case of COVID-19delivered his comments outside from a balcony in the White House.

Taliban spokesman Zabihullah Mujahid on Monday confirmed an airstrike carried out by a drone in Kabul. He said the Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan considers that a clear violation of international principles.

US Secretary of State Antony Blinken said on Monday that by housing al-Zawahiri in Afghanistan, “the Taliban have grossly violated the Doha Agreement and reiterated assurances to the world that they would not allow Afghan territory to pass through.” terrorists is used to threaten the security of other countries.”

Former acting CIA director and CBS News employee Michael Morell said after the president’s comments that “it’s really hard for me to believe [al-Zawahiri] was in Kabul without the knowledge of at least some of the Taliban leaders.”

Pointing out that al-Zawahiri “lived there quite openly and didn’t try to hide,” Morell said the strike also made it clear to other al-Qaeda members in Afghanistan that they still need to be concerned for their safety, despite the fact that that the US no longer has troops there.

Al-Zawahiri has long been a wanted man. After the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001, then-President George W. Bush published a list of the FBI’s 22 most wanted terrorists, with al-Zawahiri topping the list along with Osama bin Laden.

For years, al-Zawahiri was known as Al-Qaeda’s No. 2, but many analysts believe he was really the mastermind behind bin Laden’s operation.

Osama bin Laden and Ayman al-Zawahiric
Al-Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden, left, sits with his adviser Ayman al-Zawahiri during an interview with a Pakistani journalist at an undisclosed location in Afghanistan for an article published on Nov. 10, 2001.

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Bin Laden was assassinated by US special forces in 2011, but al-Zawahiri evaded attempts on his life and an international manhunt until his death.

Zawahiri continued to release video statements, including one on September 11, 2021, although it was unclear whether that recording was new or old. His death had been rumored for years, and the US offered $25 million for information that could lead to his arrest.

Andrew Ansbro, president of the FDNY-Firefighters Association, in a statement Monday thanked Mr Biden for “helping bring another level of lockdown to everyone affected by these attacks.”

— Arden Farhi, Nancy Cordes, Andres Triay, Ahmad Muktar, Pat Milton, and Olivia Gazis of CBS News contributed to this report.

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