US kills Al-Qaeda leader Ayman al-Zawahiri in Afghanistan drone strike

“I authorized a precision strike that would remove him from the battlefield once and for all,” Biden said.

Zawahiri took shelter in downtown Kabul to reunite with his family, Biden said, and was killed in what one senior government official described as “a precisely tailored airstrike” using two Hellfire missiles. The drone strike, carried out at 9:48 p.m. ET on Saturday, was approved by Biden after weeks of meetings with his cabinet and key advisers, the official said Monday, adding that there were no U.S. personnel on the ground at the time of the attack. in Kabul. strike.

Senior Haqqani Taliban figures were aware of Zawahiri’s presence in the area, the official said, in “clear violation of the Doha Agreement”, and even took steps to conceal his presence after Saturday’s successful strike, which blocked access. until the hiding place was restricted and members were moved quickly. of his family, including his daughter and her children, who were deliberately not attacked and unharmed during the strike. The US did not warn Taliban officials ahead of Saturday’s strike.

In a series of tweets, Taliban spokesman Zabiullah Mujahid said: “On July 31, an airstrike was carried out on a residential house in the Sherpur area of ​​the city of Kabul.”

He said: “The nature of the incident was not initially clear,” but the Islamic emirate’s security and intelligence services have investigated the incident and “initial findings indicated that the attack was carried out by a US drone.”

Mujahid’s tweets came out before CNN reported Zawahiri’s death. Mujahid said the Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan “firmly condemns this attack under any pretext and calls it a clear violation of international principles and the Doha Agreement.”

‘Justice has been done’

Biden, who was briefed on the attack against Zawahiri as he became isolated with a rebound case of Covid-19, spoke outside Monday from the Blue Room balcony at the White House.

Zawahiri, Biden said, “was deeply involved in the planning of 9/11, one of the most responsible for the attacks that killed 2,977 people on American soil. For decades, he masterminded attacks on Americans.”

“Now justice has been done and this terrorist leader is no more. People around the world no longer need to fear the cruel and determined killer,” he continued. “The United States continues to demonstrate our determination and ability to defend the American people against those who want to harm us. We make it clear again tonight that no matter how long it takes, wherever you hide, if you are a threat For our people, the United States will find you and take you out.”

The president said the precision strike was the result of the “extraordinary persistence and skill” of the country’s intelligence community.

“Our intelligence community located Zawahiri earlier this year — he moved to downtown Kabul to reunite with members of his immediate family,” Biden said.

The strike comes a year after Biden ordered the withdrawal of US troops from Afghanistan, prompting Taliban forces to quickly seize control of the country.

Biden said Monday that when he withdrew US troops from the country, he “made the decision that after 20 years of war, the United States no longer needed thousands of boots on the ground in Afghanistan to protect America from terrorists who want to help us harm” , and I have promised the American people that we will continue to conduct effective counter-terrorism operations in Afghanistan and beyond. That’s exactly what we’ve done.”

Biden promised that Zawahiri “will never again allow Afghanistan to become a safe haven for terrorists because he is gone and we are going to make sure nothing happens again.”

The president concluded by expressing his gratitude to US intelligence and counter-terrorism communities, and said he hopes Zawahiri’s death will bring some measure of closure to the friends and families of the victims of 9/11.

“To those who continue to try to harm the United States, hear me now: We will always remain vigilant and we will act — and we will always do whatever it takes to ensure the safety and security of Americans at home and around the world.” ‘, he decided.

Close ally of bin Laden

Zawahiri comes from a distinguished Egyptian family, according to the New York Times. His grandfather, Rabia’a ​​al-Zawahiri, was an imam at al-Azhar University in Cairo. His great-uncle, Abdel Rahman Azzam, was the first secretary of the Arab League.

He eventually helped masterminded the deadliest terror attack on US soil, when hijackers turned US planes into missiles.

“Those 19 brothers who went out and gave their souls to Allah Almighty, Almighty God has bestowed upon them this victory that we enjoy now,” al-Zawahiri said in a videotaped message released in April 2002.

It was the first of many derisive messages that the terrorist – who became the leader of Al Qaeda after US troops killed Bin Laden in 2011 – would send over the years, urging militants to continue the fight against America and Americans. leaders reprimanded.

Zawahiri was in constant motion as the US-led invasion of Afghanistan began after the September 11, 2001 attacks. At one point, he narrowly escaped a US attack in Afghanistan’s rugged, mountainous region of Tora Bora, an attack that left his wife and children died.

He made his public debut as a Muslim militant while in prison for his involvement in the assassination of Egyptian President Anwar Sadat in 1981.

“We want to address the whole world. Who are we? Who are we?” he said in an interview in prison.

By this time, al-Zawahiri, a young doctor, was already a committed terrorist who for years conspired to overthrow the Egyptian government and try to replace it with a fundamentalist Islamic rule. He proudly supported Sadat’s assassination after the Egyptian leader made peace with Israel.

He spent three years in prison after Sadat’s murder, alleging that he had been tortured during his detention. After his release, he made his way to Pakistan, where he treated wounded mujahideen fighters fighting the Soviet occupation of Afghanistan.

That was when he met bin Laden and found a common cause.

“We are working with Brother Bin Laden,” he said when announcing the merger of his terror group, the Egyptian Islamic Jihad, with Al Qaeda in May 1998. “We have known him for over 10 years now. We have fought with him here in Afghanistan.”

Together, the two terror leaders signed a fatwa, or statement: “The judgment to kill and fight Americans and their allies, whether civilians or military, is an obligation on every Muslim.”

Mastermind of 9/11

The attacks on the US and its facilities began weeks later, with the suicide bombings on US embassies in Kenya and Tanzania that killed more than 200 people and injured more than 5,000 others. Zawahiri and Bin Laden beamed after escaping a US cruise missile attack in Afghanistan launched in retaliation.

Then there was the attack on the USS Cole in Yemen in October 2000, when suicide bombers on a dinghy detonated their boat, killing 17 American sailors and injuring 39 others.

The climax of Zawahiri’s terror plans came on September 11, 2001, when nearly 3,000 people were killed in the attacks on the Twin Towers of the World Trade Center and the Pentagon. A fourth hijacked plane, bound for Washington, crashed in a Pennsylvania field after passengers fought back.

Since then, al-Zawahiri has increased his public profile, appearing on numerous video and audio tapes urging Muslims to join the jihad against the United States and its allies. Some of his links were closely followed by terrorist attacks.

For example, in May 2003, near-simultaneous suicide bombings in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia, killed 23 people, including nine Americans, days after a tape was released that allegedly featured Zawahiri’s voice.

The US State Department had offered a reward of up to $25 million for information leading directly to his arrest. A June 2021 United Nations report suggested he was somewhere in the Afghanistan/Pakistan border region, and may have been too weak to be featured in propaganda.

Family group 9/11 expresses gratitude, but calls on Biden to hold Saudis accountable

Terry Strada, the chairman of 9/11 Families United — a coalition of survivors and families of victims of the September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks — expressed gratitude for the strike, but called on the president to shut down the Saudi Arabian government responsible for alleged government complicity in the attacks.

The group has criticized the Saudi-backed LIV Golf tour, which kicked off its third game in late July at Trump National Golf Club Bedminster — about 80 miles from Ground Zero in Manhattan.

“I am deeply grateful for the intelligence efforts and the dedication and sacrifice of our brave military personnel to remove such evil from our lives. But to take full responsibility for the killing of thousands on September 11, 2001, President Biden must also hold paymasters responsible who financed the attacks,” Strada said in a statement.

“The financiers are not being targeted by drones, they are being greeted with fist pumps and hosted at golf clubs. If we are going to take responsibility seriously, we have to hold EVERYONE accountable,” Strada added — seemingly referring to the president’s controversial gesture with the Saudi crown prince Mohammed bin Salman.

This story was updated Monday with additional developments.

CNN’s Maegan Vazquez, Jake Tapper, Allie Malloy, Larry Register, Hamdi Alkhshali and CNN wire contributors contributed to this report.

Leave a Comment