The United States has killed Ayman al-Zawahri, the leader of al-Qaida and one of the world's most wanted terrorists, who, alongside the group's founder, Osama bin Laden, oversaw the attacks of September 11, 2001, President Joe Biden announced Monday evening.
Al-Zawahri was killed in a CIA drone strike in Kabul, Afghanistan, over the weekend, according to US officials who spoke on the condition of anonymity to discuss sensitive intelligence.
When US forces withdrew from Afghanistan last August, Biden administration officials said they would retain capability for “over-the-horizon” attacks from elsewhere on terrorist forces inside Afghanistan. The attack against al-Zawahri is the first known counterterrorism strike there since the withdrawal.
Speaking in a live television address from a balcony at the White House, Biden announced that days ago he had authorized a strike to kill al-Zawahri. “Justice has been delivered, and this terrorist leader is no more,” Biden said.
The strike occurred at 9:48 pm Eastern time on Saturday, according to a senior administration official who briefed reporters on the operation. A drone fired two Hellfire missiles at al-Zawahri as he stepped onto the balcony of a safe house in Kabul, where he had been living with members of his family, the official said.
A loud blast was heard in the Shirpur neighborhood in central Kabul. The district, long a derelict area owned by the Afghan Defence Ministry, was converted into an exclusive residential area of large houses in recent years, with senior Afghan officials and wealthy individuals owning mansions there.
The intelligence community had tracked al-Zawahri to the safe house and spent months confirming his identity and developing a “pattern of life,” tracking his movements and behaviour, the official said.
Intelligence personnel also constructed a model of the safe house, which was used to brief Biden on how a strike could be carried out in such a way that it lessened the chances of killing any other occupants or civilians, the official said, adding that intelligence agencies have concluded that al-Zawahri was the only person killed in the strike.
“The United States continues to demonstrate its resolve and capacity to defend Americans from those who seek to do it harm,” Biden said, making it “clear again [that] no matter how long it takes, no matter how you hide... the United States will find you and seek you out.”
The Washington Post