WASHINGTON (AP) — President Joe Biden confirmed Monday that a US drone strike in Afghanistan this weekend killed Al-Qaeda leader Ayman al-Zawahri, declaring that “justice has been delivered.”
“This terrorist leader is no more,” Biden said in an evening address from the White House.
Biden said US intelligence officials followed al-Zawahri to a house in central Kabul where he was hiding with his family. The president approved the operation last week and it was performed on Sunday.
THIS IS A BREAKING NEWS UPDATE. Below is AP’s earlier story.
WASHINGTON (AP) — A US drone strike in Afghanistan this weekend killed Ayman al-Zawahri, who took over as al-Qaeda leader after Osama bin Laden’s death in a US raid. President Joe Biden would announce the assassination Monday and mark a major terrorism victory, just 11 months after US troops left the country after a two-decade war.
The strike, conducted by the Central Intelligence Agency, was confirmed by five people familiar with the matter who spoke on condition of anonymity before Biden briefed the American people on the details of the operation in a 7:30 p.m. EDT speech. to the nation.
The loss of al-Zawahri eliminates the figure who more than anyone else has shaped al-Qaeda, first as Osama bin Laden’s deputy since 1998, then as his successor. Together, he and bin Laden turned the weapons of the jihadist movement at the United States and carried out the deadliest attack ever on American soil: the suicide hijacking of September 11, 2001.
Current and former officials began learning Sunday afternoon that al-Zawahri had been killed in a drone strike, but the government delayed releasing the information until his death could be confirmed, one person said.
White House officials declined to confirm that al-Zawahri had been killed, but noted in a statement that the United States conducted a “successful” counterterrorism operation against a key al-Qaeda target, adding that “there were no civilian casualties.” have fallen”.
The house where Al-Zawahri was located when he was killed belonged to a top aide to senior Taliban leader Sirajuddin Haqqani, according to a senior intelligence official. The official also added that a CIA ground team and aerial reconnaissance conducted after the drone strike confirmed al-Zawahri’s death. Planning for the operation began six months ago but has intensified in the last two months, the official said.
During the 20-year war in Afghanistan, the US targeted and splintered al-Qaida, forcing leaders to go into hiding. But America’s departure from Afghanistan last September gave the extremist group a chance to rebuild. US military officials, including General Mark Milley, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, have said al-Qaida tried to rebuild itself in Afghanistan, where it faced limited threats from the now-ruling Taliban. Military leaders have warned that the group still seeks to attack the US
The 2001 attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon made bin Laden America’s No. 1 enemy. But he probably never could have carried it out without his deputy. Bin Laden provided charisma and money to al-Qaeda, but al-Zawahri brought the tactics and organizational skills needed to forge militants into a network of cells in countries around the world.
Their bond was forged in the late 1980s, when al-Zawahri reportedly treated Saudi millionaire Bin Laden in the caves of Afghanistan when Soviet bombing shook the mountains around them.
Zawahri, on the FBI’s Most Wanted Terrorists List, had a $25 million bounty on his head for any information that could be used to kill or capture him.
Biden planned to speak from the balcony at the Blue Room of the White House while remaining in isolation at the residence as he continues to test positive for COVID-19.
Al-Zawhiri and Bin Laden plotted the 9/11 attacks that introduced many ordinary Americans to al-Qaeda for the first time.
Photographs from the time often showed the bespectacled, mild-mannered Egyptian doctor sitting next to bin Laden. Al-Zawahiri had merged his group of Egyptian militants with bin Laden’s al-Qaida in the 1990s.
“The strong contingent of Egyptians applied organizational know-how, financial expertise and military experience to wage a violent jihad against leaders who viewed the fighters as un-Islamic and their patrons, especially the United States,” wrote Steven A. Cook for the Council on Foreign Relations last year.
When the US invasion of Afghanistan in 2001 destroyed al-Qaeda’s safe haven, scattering, killing and imprisoning its members, al-Zawahri ensured the survival of al-Qaeda. He rebuilt his leadership in the Afghan-Pakistan border region and installed allies as lieutenants in key positions.
He also transformed the organization from a centralized terror attack planner to the head of a franchise chain. He led the build-up of a network of autonomous branches in the region, including in Iraq, Saudi Arabia, North Africa, Somalia, Yemen and Asia. Over the next decade, Al-Qaeda inspired, or had a direct hand in, attacks in all those areas in Europe, Pakistan and Turkey, including the Madrid train bombings in 2004 and the London transit bombings in 2005.
More recently, the Al-Qaeda affiliate in Yemen proved its ability to plot attacks on US soil with an attempted bombing of a US passenger plane in 2009 and an attempted parcel bomb the following year.
But even before Bin Laden’s death, al-Zawahri struggled to maintain al-Qaeda’s relevance in a changing Middle East.
He tried with little success to co-opt the wave of uprisings that spread across the Arab world from 2011, urging Islamist hardliners to take over in the countries where leaders had fallen. But while Islamists have gained notoriety in many places, they have major ideological differences with al-Qaeda and reject its agenda and leadership.
Still, al-Zawahri tried to pose as the leader of the Arab Spring. America “stands against an Islamic nation that is in revolt and has risen from its lethargy to a renaissance of jihad,” he said in a video eulogy to bin Laden, dressed in a white robe and turban with an assault rifle mounted on a white background. wall behind him. .
Al-Zawahri was also a more divisive figure than his predecessor. Many militants described the mild-mannered bin Laden in adoring and almost spiritual terms.
By contrast, al-Zawahri was notoriously prickly and pedantic. He conducted ideological battles with critics in the jihadist camp and wagged his finger in his videos. Even some key figures in Al-Qaeda’s central leadership were deterred, calling him overly controlling, secretive and divisive.
Some militants whose association with bin Laden predates al-Zawahri’s have always viewed him as an arrogant invader.
“I never took orders from al-Zawahri,” sneered Fazul Abdullah Mohammed, one of the network’s top figures in East Africa until his death in 2011, in a memoir posted online in 2009. our historic leadership.”
Speaking on August 31, 2021, after the last US troops left Afghanistan, Biden said the US would not give up its fight against terrorism in that country or elsewhere.
“We will continue the fight against terrorism in Afghanistan and other countries,” he said. “We just don’t have to go to ground war to do it.” Looking ahead to the attack that would take place 11 months later, Biden said at the time: “We have what is called over-the-horizon capabilities, which means we can attack terrorists and targets without US boots on the ground — or very little, if necessary. ”
There have been rumors of al-Zawahri’s death for years. But in April, a video surfaced of the al-Qaeda leader praising an Indian Muslim woman who had defied a ban on wearing a hijab or headscarf. Those images were the first evidence in months that he was still alive.
A statement from the Afghan Taliban government confirmed the airstrike, but made no mention of al-Zawahri or other casualties.
It said it “strongly condemns this attack and calls it a clear violation of international principles and the Doha Agreement,” the US’s 2020 pact with the Taliban that led to the withdrawal of US troops.
“Such actions are a repeat of the failed experiences of the past 20 years and are against the interests of the United States of America, Afghanistan and the region,” the statement said.
Associated Press writers Lolita C. Baldor, Ellen Knickmeyer, Zeke Miller, Aamer Madhani, and Darlene Superville in Washington; Rahim Faiez in Islamabad; and Lee Keath in Cairo reported.