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Has Al Qaeda kingpin Ayman Al-Zawahiri been killed, really?

Al Qaeda, kingpin, Ayman Al-Zawahiri, Afghan, Kabul, Al Qaeda kingpin, Al-Zawahiri, Afghan capital Kabul, USS Cole, Osama bin Laden

Opinion

Has Al Qaeda kingpin Ayman Al-Zawahiri been killed, really?

Some of the counterterrorism experts smelled rat in the entire issue, while others think, Joe Biden and his team are on-purpose sensationalizing this issue, while even the US President is not totally convinced of Zawahiri’s death. None of the US intelligence sources are sure, whether those Ninja-missiles had really hit Zawahiri or it just was an unsuccessful operation.

Following the death of Al Qaeda kingpin Ayman Al-Zawahiri in Afghan capital Kabul by a US drone attack, while Joe Biden described him as “a mastermind” behind the USS Cole bombing in 2000 and a terrorist “deeply involved in the planning” of the September 11, 2001 attacks on the US soil, neither the Taliban sources nor any other yet confirmed the death or been there any information centering the “minced” body of this dangerous man. Non-existence of Zawahiri’s body remains have already generated doubt in the minds of counterterrorism experts about Joe Biden’s declaration of a “successful” operation and elimination of this Al Qaeda kingpin. Similarly, Al Qaeda has not uttered a word yet about Zawahiri’s death or it did not say anything about the next leadership. These circumstances have generated serious doubts about the death of Ayman Al-Zawahiri. It may be mentioned here that, earlier the US had made numerous claims of Ayman Al-Zawahiri’s death, where later were proved to be wrong. While the question about the legitimacy of the death of Zawahiri remains unanswered, let us see how Biden has once again fed Americans with false information or half-truth centering this issue.

In announcing last week that the leader of Al-Qaida, Ayman al-Zawahri, had been killed in a US drone strike in Kabul, Afghanistan, President Joe Biden described the long-sought terrorist as “a mastermind” behind the USS Cole bombing in 2000. He also said Al-Zawahiri was “deeply involved in the planning” of the attacks of September 11, 2001.

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Although there is no doubt that Al-Zawahiri was the leader of a terrorist movement whose global jihad has killed thousands of people. He was the deputy to Al Qaeda’s founder, Osama bin Laden, and took over the organization in 2011; as a matter of historical accuracy, Joe Biden’s words went all beyond how the US government and terrorism specialists have described Ayman Al-Zawahiri’s record with regards to those two particularly gruesome attacks. Joe Biden’s portrayal of Zawahiri as a key plotter of the 9/11 attacks was dittoed by many news outlets in the US and the world, it has surprised a large segment of the counterterrorism experts as did the characterization of Al-Zawahiri’s role in the Cole bombing.

Some of the counterterrorism experts smelled rat in the entire issue, while others think, Joe Biden and his team are on-purpose sensationalizing this issue, while even the US President is not totally convinced of Zawahiri’s death. None of the US intelligence sources are sure, whether those Ninja-missiles had really hit Zawahiri or it just was an unsuccessful operation.

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Although Joe Biden is trying to cash on this issue as one of the vital tools in salvaging his already sinking approval ratings and possible disastrous result for the Democratic Party during November’s midterm elections, some speculators have started believing, the entire establishment and intelligence organizations in the US will make frantic bids in hiding truth at least until November’s midterm elections even if they come to know – Ayman Al-Zawahiri is still alive.

Meanwhile, attorneys had formally requested evidence from prosecutors to support Joe Biden’s statements about Zawahiri’s death and his involvement in two particular terrorist attacks.

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Marc Sageman, a former CIA officer who worked with Islamist fighters battling the Soviet occupation of Afghanistan in the 1980s and later wrote several books about terrorism networks and radicalization, told The New York Times, he was puzzled by Biden’s portrayal of Al-Zawahri and wondered where the purported role came from.

“Zawahri is a legitimate target”, he said on August 2, 2022 – a day after the Joe Biden’s address. “But the justification they gave yesterday was inaccurate. I doubt it. I strongly, strongly doubt it”.

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A senior administration official declined to say whether Biden’s wording was part of his prepared remarks drafted by aides who had consulted with the intelligence community and other counterterrorism experts, or whether the president had ad-libbed it.

During a briefing with reporters shortly before Biden delivered his remarks, a different senior administration official described al-Zawahri as bin Laden’s “deputy during the 9/11 attacks,” while that official did not mention the Cole.

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According to The New York Times, prosecutors in federal civilian court and in the military commissions system at Guantánamo Bay have filed multiple indictments against Al-Qaeda operatives accused of helping plot the Cole bombing. Those documents are dozens of pages long, laying out the government’s understanding of the participants, meetings, financial transfers and other moves that made up the conspiracy. They do not portray Al-Zawahiri as a mastermind of the operation, a suicide bombing by two men in a skiff that killed 17 US sailors.

A Saudi prisoner, Abd al-Rahim al-Nashiri, is described that way in a death-penalty case at Guantánamo Bay. A CIA profile at the time of his transfer in 2006 referred to him as “the mastermind and local manager of the bombing in October 2000”. His charges mention al-Zawahiri as one of 26 participants in a Qaida conspiracy to commit acts of terrorism in general, but not as the mastermind.

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Nor is Ayman Al-Zawahiri is portrayed that way in the 2003 federal court indictment of two accused members of the Cole conspiracy, Fahd Al-Quso and Jamal Al-Badawi. Both men were killed in US strikes in Yemen, in 2012 and 2019, with President Donald Trump saying on Twitter that Al-Badawi was “the leader” of the Cole attack.

A military charge sheet filed in 2012 against five Guantánamo detainees who were accused of conspiring in the September 11 attacks mentioned Al-Zawahiri only for his joint declaration of war with bin Laden in 1998, in describing the group’s history.

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Within hours of Biden’s announcement, former President Barack Obama used similar language on Twitter, calling Al-Zawahiri “one of the masterminds” of the September 11 attacks.

But defense attorneys said the language did not match the descriptions in the case at Guantánamo.

“The 9/11 charges, discovery and proof so far make almost no mention of Al-Zawahiri”, James Connell, a capital defense attorney for Ammar Al-Baluchi, the nephew of Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, who is commonly described as their architect of the attack told The New York Times.

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The senior military defense attorney in the Cole case, Capt. Brian L. Mizer of the Navy, told NYT, Al-Zawahri figured in pretrial evidence only as a deputy in Al-Qaeda, not as someone who had a specific role in the operation.

Ali Soufan, a former FBI agent who investigated Al-Qaida in the period surrounding both attacks, said Al-Zawahri was not the operational mastermind of either plot.

With all of the information provided by individuals and officials who have substantial knowledge about Al Qaeda and its masterminds, it is a big question as to why Joe Biden has provided false information or twisted facts to the American people about Zawahiri’s role. People may also raise question about Barack Obama’s giving ditto to Biden’s false narratives. One may even ask – is Joe Biden trying to play Zawahiri card for his and his party’s political mileage? People may also ask prove of death of Ayman Al Zawahiri.

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An internationally acclaimed multi-award-winning anti-militancy journalist, research-scholar, counter-terrorism specialist, and editor of Blitz. Follow him on Twitter Salah_Shoaib

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