Top Al Qaeda leader Ayman al-Zawahiri has been killed by a drone strike carried out by the United States on July 30, according to President Joe Biden. The operation was carried out by the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA).
At Biden’s direction, an unmanned US drone fired two hellfire missiles at a safehouse in Kabul, Afghanistan, killing al-Zawahiri at 9:48 p.m. Eastern Time, according to a senior administration official who briefed reporters on Monday.
The official said through various intelligence sources, the US has “high confidence” that no one else was killed in the strike, including al-Zawahiri’s family who were elsewhere in a safehouse.
The official said Al-Zawahiri was an active threat to US national security and that his death is a “hugely significant blow” to Al Qaeda.
For several years the US was aware of a network that protected al-Zawahiri, according to the official.
Zawahiri, an Egyptian ophthalmologist, had served as Osama Bin Laden’s deputy and took over Al Qaeda after the US killed Bin Laden in May 2011.
But Al Qaeda members had complained that he was comparatively uninspiring. The two men fought had together in the war against the Soviets in Afghanistan.
Zawahiri helped found Islamic Jihad, the group that assassinated Egyptian President Anwar Sadat in 1981. Al Qaeda was never able to regain its status as the pre-eminent terrorist organization after bin Laden’s death, and faced newer, more brutal, rivals, such as the Islamic State.
On July 1, Biden was briefed on a proposed operation, and he convened a meeting on July 25 with key cabinet members and top officials for a final briefing on the intelligence assessment, the official said.
There was unanimous support to strike the target and Biden authorized a “tailored” airstrike to minimize civilian casualties.
Biden addressed the nation Monday night after a counterterrorism operation that killed al Qaeda leader Ayman al Zawahiri.
“He carved a trail of murder and violence against American citizens, American service members, American diplomats, and American interests”, Joe Biden said in his remarks”….Now, justice has been delivered. And this terrorist leader is no more”.
With Ayman Al Zawahiri’s death, all of top plotters of the September 11 terrorist attacks are either dead or captured.
The strike comes nearly one year after US troops withdrew from Afghanistan, something that was not lost on the president. The Biden administration has long made the argument that it can continue to address terrorist threats to the American people without boots on the ground.
Taliban spokesman Zabihullah Mujahid on Monday confirmed an airstrike conducted by a drone in Kabul. He said the Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan views that as a clear violation of international principles.
The Taliban said the strike took place in a residential neighborhood in Kabul.
On a call with reporters Monday evening, a senior administration official said the US government had multiple, independent sources confirming Ayman Al Zawahiri’s whereabouts at a safehouse. He was ultimately taken out by a drone at 9:48 p.m. ET Saturday while he was on the balcony of the safe house, and his family members were in different rooms of the house. The US government, the senior administration official said, has a high level of confidence that no one else was killed in the strike.
The senior administration official said the strike was a result of careful, patient and persistent work by counterterrorism officials over the course of months and years. The official also noted the quick, decisive action of the president once they determined where the al Qaeda leader was located.
The senior administration official said the president received regular updates as the US government zeroed in on Ayman Al Zawahiri. Once the safehouse was located, the Joe Biden wanted to understand more about the layout of the safehouse’s doors and windows to avoid other casualties. In a July 25 meeting, the Joe Biden authorized a precise, tailored air strike that would minimize civilian deaths as much as possible, the senior administration official said.
Zawahiri continued to release video statements, including one on September 11, 2021, although it was unclear if that recording was new or old. It was rumored for years that he had died, and the US offered US$25 million for information that could lead to his apprehension.
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