Al Qaeda chief Ayman al-Zawahiri was killed on Saturday in an air strike by the United States, US President Joe Biden confirmed.
“On Saturday, at my direction, the United States successfully concluded an air strike in Kabul, Afghanistan and killed Al Qaeda Amir Ayman al-Zawahiri,” Biden said in a media briefing.
The US President said that justice has been delivered, adding, “No matter how long it takes, no matter where you hide, if you are a threat to our people, the US will find you and take you out.”
“He carved a trail of murder and violence against American citizens, American service members, American diplomats, and American interests. Zawahri was Bin Laden’s leader, his number two man, and his deputy during the time of terrorist attacks on 9/11. He was deeply involved in the planning of 9/11,”Biden said.
“When I ended our military mission in Afghanistan almost a year ago, I made a 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 seek to do us harm,” Biden said, adding “I made a promise to the American people that we would continue to conduct effective counterterrorism operations in Afghanistan and beyond. We’ve done just that.”
Who was Ayman al-Zawahiri
Al Qaeda chief and key plotter of the 9/11 terrorist attack.
Born in an Egyptian middle-class family of scholars and doctors, Ayman al Zawahiri grew up to be a doctor.
He was the grandson of Rabia al-Zawahiri, the grand imam of Al Azhar, which is the centre of Sunni Islamic learning in the Middle East and one of Islam’s most important mosques.
Zawahiri served three years as a surgeon in the Egyptian Army, but his journey from an eye surgeon to becoming a most wanted global terrorist started after he met Laden in 1986, and joined Laden as his personal advisor and physician.
In 1993, he took over the leadership of Islamic Jihad in Egypt and became a leading figure in a campaign in the mid-1990s to overthrow the government and set up a purist Islamic state. He was found to be involved in the killing of over 1,200 Egyptians.
Years later, Zawahiri became number two on the list of “most wanted terrorists” announced by the US government in 2001.
In 1998, Zawahiri finally merged the Egyptian Islamic Jihad with Al-Qaeda.
Zawahiri was indicted for his alleged role in the bombings of August 7, 1998, when nearly simultaneous bombs blew up in front of the American embassies in Nairobi, Kenya, and Dar es Salaam, Tanzania, in Africa – 224 people died in the blasts, including 12 Americans, and more than 4,500 people were wounded.
The culmination of Zawahiri’s terror plotting 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 Pentagon. A fourth hijacked airliner, headed for Washington, crashed in a Pennsylvania field after passengers fought back.
Both he and bin Laden escaped US forces in Afghanistan in late 2001.
In May 2003, Zawahiri was found involved in suicide bombings in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia, killing 23 people, including nine Americans, days after a tape thought to contain Zawahiri’s voice was released.
Zawahiri emerged as a prominent speaker of Al-Qaeda, in recent years after he appeared in 16 videos and audiotapes in 2007, four times as many as Bin Laden, as the group tried to radicalise and recruit Muslims around the world.
His whereabouts were a mystery for several years, but he was believed to be hiding along the border between Pakistan and Afghanistan.
In January 2006, the US had earlier tried to kill Zawahiri in a missile strike near Pakistan’s border with Afghanistan. The attack killed four al-Qaeda members, but Zawahiri survived and appeared on video two weeks later, warning US President George W Bush that neither he nor “all the powers on earth” could bring his death “one second closer”.
Charles Lister is a senior fellow and the Director of the Syria and Countering Terrorism & Extremism programs at the Middle East Institute.
According to Charles Lister, “The strike and its reported location — in Kabul’s Sherpur neighbourhood — raise fascinating questions about how Zawahiri was found, and in all likelihood, about who sold him out.’
“Already, local reports suggest relatives of Sirajuddin Haqqani may have been present and were possibly killed in the strike. While we may never know some of the answers, this will serve to exacerbate already tense inter-factional divisions within the Taliban.”
“Did a Taliban operative cooperate with this U.S. strike, or was a wing of the Taliban (the Haqqani Network) providing Zawahiri shelter in Kabul? Either or both possibilities could trigger an intense internal crisis within the Taliban, threaten to break down the Doha Agreement, and heighten hostilities between a wide variety of other rival actors vying for advantage in Afghanistan.”
“More than anything else, Islamic State-Khorasan Province may stand to benefit the most, exploiting the inevitable sense of paranoia and disenchantment that foreign fighters and extreme elements within the Taliban will likely feel in the aftermath of this strike,” added Mr Lister
Zawahiri’s targeted killing comes a year after the US military withdrawal from Afghanistan and the Taliban’s takeover of the country.
Reports surpassed on Monday that the US killed Zawahiri in Afghanistan in a drone strike.
Following this, Taliban spokesman Zabiullah Mujahid confirmed the strike and said, “An air strike was carried out on a residential house in Sherpur area of Kabul city on July 31.”
He said, “The nature of the incident was not apparent at first” but the security and intelligence services of the Islamic Emirate investigated the incident and “initial findings determined that the strike was carried out by an American drone.”
Mujahid said the Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan “strongly condemns this attack on any pretext and calls it a clear violation of international principles and the Doha Agreement.”
The US State Department had offered a reward of up to USD 25 million for information leading directly to Zawahiri’s capture.