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

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

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

Senior Taliban figures in Haqqani 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 the successful strike Saturday, restricting access to the shelter and quickly relocating members. of his family, including his daughter and children, who were intentionally not targeted during the strike and remained unharmed. The United States did not alert Taliban officials ahead of Saturday’s strike.

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

He said: “The nature of the incident was not apparent at first”, but the Islamic Emirate’s security and intelligence services investigated the incident and “initial findings determined that the strike had was carried out by an American drone”.

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

“Justice has been served”

Biden, who was briefed on the strike against Zawahiri while self-isolating with a rebound case of Covid-19, spoke outside from the Blue Room balcony of the White House on Monday .

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

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

The president said the precision strike targeting 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 immediate family members,” Biden said.

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

Biden said Monday that when he pulled American troops out of 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 the terrorists who seek to hurt us, and I have promised the American people that we will continue to conduct effective counterterrorism operations in Afghanistan and beyond, and that is exactly what we have done.

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

The president concluded by expressing his gratitude to America’s intelligence and counterterrorism communities, saying he hopes Zawahiri’s death will bring some closure to the friends and families of 9/11 victims.

“To those who continue to seek to harm the United States, hear me out now: We will always remain vigilant and we will act – and we will always do what is necessary to keep Americans safe and secure at home and around the world. . “, he concluded.

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 stage the deadliest terrorist attack on American soil, when hijackers turned American airliners into missiles.

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

It was the first of many provocative messages the terrorist – who became leader of al-Qaeda after US forces killed Bin Laden in 2011 – would send over the years, urging activists to continue the fight against the America and berating American leaders.

Zawahiri was constantly on the move once the US invasion of Afghanistan began after the September 11, 2001 attacks. At one point, he narrowly escaped a US attack in the rugged and mountainous region of Tora Bora in Afghanistan, an attack that killed his wife and children.

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

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

By this time, al-Zawahiri, a young doctor, was already a staunch terrorist who had conspired to overthrow the Egyptian government for years and sought to replace it with a fundamentalist Islamic regime. He proudly endorsed the assassination of Sadat after the Egyptian leader made peace with Israel.

He spent three years in prison after Sadat’s assassination and claimed to have been tortured while in custody. After his release, he traveled to Pakistan, where he treated wounded mujahideen fighters who fought against the Soviet occupation of Afghanistan.

It was then that he met Bin Laden and found common cause.

“We work 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 more than 10 years now. we fought with him here in Afghanistan.”

Together, the two terrorist leaders signed a fatwa, or declaration: “The judgment to kill and fight Americans and their allies, whether civilian or military, is an obligation for every Muslim.”

The mastermind of 9/11

Attacks on the United States and its facilities began weeks later, with the suicide bombings of American embassies in Kenya and Tanzania that killed more than 200 people and injured more than 5,000 others. Zawahiri and bin Laden gloated after escaping a US cruise missile attack in Afghanistan that was launched in retaliation.

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

The culmination of Zawahiri’s terror plot 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 airliner, bound for Washington, crashed in a field in Pennsylvania after passengers returned fire.

Since then, al-Zawahiri has raised his public profile, appearing on numerous video and audio tapes to urge Muslims to join jihad against the United States and its allies. Some of his bands have been closely followed by terrorist attacks.

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

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

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

Terry Strada, president 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 hold the Saudi government accountable for the complicity suspected of the government in the attacks.

The group slammed the Saudi-backed LIV Golf Tour, which began its third competition at Trump National Golf Club Bedminster in late July, about 80 miles from Ground Zero in Manhattan.

“I am deeply grateful for the commitment of intelligence agencies and the dedication and sacrifices of our brave military to eradicate such evil from our lives. But, in order to gain full accountability for the killing of thousands of people on 9/11 September 2001, President Biden must also hold accountable the Saudi paymasters who funded the attacks,” Strada said in a statement.

“Financiers aren’t being targeted by drones, they’re being greeted with punches and housed in golf clubs. If we’re going to be serious about accountability, we need to hold EVERYONE accountable,” Strada added. – seeming to refer to the President. controversial move with Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman.

This story was updated with additional developments on Monday.

Maegan Vazquez, Jake Tapper, Allie Malloy, Larry Register, Hamdi Alkhshali and CNN Wire staff at CNN contributed to this report.

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