Al-Qaeda leader Ayman al-Zawahiri killed in CIA drone strike

Ayman al-Zawahiri was the leader of al-Qaeda and one of the world’s most-wanted terrorists, who oversaw the attacks of Sept. 11, 2001.

 OSAMA BIN LADEN WITH ADVISOR AL-ZAWAHIRI DURING INTERVIEW. (photo credit: REUTERS)
OSAMA BIN LADEN WITH ADVISOR AL-ZAWAHIRI DURING INTERVIEW.
(photo credit: REUTERS)

Ayman al-Zawahiri, leader of al-Qaeda and one of the world’s most-wanted terrorists who oversaw the attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, alongside the group’s founder, Osama bin Laden, was killed on Sunday in a CIA drone strike in Afghanistan, US President Joe Biden announced on Monday.

US officials, speaking on the condition of anonymity, said Zawahiri was killed when he came out on the balcony of his safe house in Kabul on Sunday morning and was hit by "hellfire" missiles from a US drone.

"Now justice has been delivered, and this terrorist leader is no more," Biden said in remarks from the White House. "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 take you out."

He said he had authorized the precision strike in downtown Kabul and that no civilians were killed.

US intelligence determined with "high confidence" that the man killed was Zawahiri, a senior administration official told reporters. No other casualties occurred.

"Zawahiri continued to pose an active threat to US persons, interests and national security," the official said on a conference call. "His death deals a significant blow to al Qaeda and will degrade the group's ability to operate."

 US President Joe Biden addresses the nation on the killing of Al Qaeda leader Ayman al-Zawahiri in a U.S. drone strike, in Washington, US August 1, 2022. (credit: JIM WATSON/POOL VIA REUTERS) US President Joe Biden addresses the nation on the killing of Al Qaeda leader Ayman al-Zawahiri in a U.S. drone strike, in Washington, US August 1, 2022. (credit: JIM WATSON/POOL VIA REUTERS)

Three spokespeople in the Taliban administration in Kabul declined to comment on Zawahiri's death.

Taliban spokesperson Zabihullah Mujahid had previously confirmed that a strike took place in Kabul on Sunday and strongly condemned it, calling it a violation of "international principles."

"If you are a threat to our people, the United States will find you and take you out."

US President Joe Biden

A spokesperson for the interior ministry of Afghanistan said a house was hit by a rocket in Sherpoor, an upscale residential neighborhood of the city that also houses several embassies.

"There were no casualties as the house was empty," Abdul Nafi Takor, the spokesperson, said.

Taliban authorities threw a security dragnet around the house in Sherpoor on Tuesday and journalists were not allowed nearby.

 Al Qaeda leader Ayman al-Zawahiri appears in an undated FBI Most Wanted poster (credit: FBI/HANDOUT VIA REUTERS) Al Qaeda leader Ayman al-Zawahiri appears in an undated FBI Most Wanted poster (credit: FBI/HANDOUT VIA REUTERS)

In response to the assassination, US Secretary of State Antony Blinken said that the Taliban had "grossly violated" the Doha Agreement by hosting and sheltering Zawahiri.

Israeli Prime Minister Yair Lapid said: "The world is a safer place today," congratulating Biden and adding, "terrorist groups and their sponsors must know: You’re living on borrowed time. The forces of freedom will bring you to justice."

Who was Ayman al-Zawahiri?

With other senior al-Qaeda members, Zawahiri, an Egyptian surgeon who had a $25 million bounty on his head, is believed to have plotted the October 12, 2000 attack on the USS Cole naval vessel in Yemen which killed 17 US sailors and injured more than 30 others, the Rewards for Justice website said.

He was indicted in the United States for his role in the August 7, 1998 bombings of the US embassies in Kenya and Tanzania that killed 224 people and wounded more than 5,000 others.

Both bin Laden and Zawahiri had eluded capture when US led forces toppled Afghanistan’s Taliban government in late 2001 following the Sept. 11 attacks on the United States.

Zawahiri succeeded bin Laden as al-Qaeda leader after years as its main organizer and strategist, but his lack of charisma and competition from rival militants Islamic State hobbled his ability to inspire devastating attacks on the West. 

There were rumors of Zawahiri's death several times in recent years, and he was long reported to have been in poor health. 

Zawahiri's whereabouts – variously rumored to be in Pakistan's tribal area or inside Afghanistan – had been unknown until the strike.

His death also raises questions about whether Zawahiri received sanctuary from the Taliban following their takeover of Kabul in August 2021. The official said senior Taliban officials were aware of his presence in the city and said the United States expected the Taliban to abide by an agreement not to allow al Qaeda fighters to re-establish themselves in the country.

"The Taliban will have to answer for al-Zawahiri's presence in Kabul, after assuring the world they would not give safe haven to al-Qaeda terrorists," Adam Schiff, chairman of the House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence, said in a statement.

US officials said the strike was not conducted by the military, suggesting that the operation was carried out by the CIA Agency officials declined to comment, according to the New York Times

One of the officials, speaking on the condition of anonymity, said a drone strike was carried out by the CIA in Kabul on Sunday, according to Reuters.

US in Afghanistan

The drone attack is the first known US strike inside Afghanistan since US troops and diplomats left the country in August 2021. The move may bolster the credibility of Washington's assurances that the United States can still address threats from Afghanistan without a military presence in the country.

After the last US troops left Afghanistan, Biden said the US would not let up on its fight against terrorism in that country or elsewhere in a 2021 statement.

“We will maintain the fight against terrorism in Afghanistan and other countries,” Biden said. “We just don’t need to fight a ground war to do it.”

“We will maintain the fight against terrorism in Afghanistan and other countries, we just don’t need to fight a ground war to do it.”

US President Joe Biden

Referring to the capabilities the US showed in the drone strike, Biden remarked that “We have what’s called over-the-horizon capabilities, which means we can strike terrorists and targets without American boots on the ground — or very few, if needed.”

Former President Barack Obama joined lawmakers in praising the operation.

"Tonight’s news is also proof that it’s possible to root out terrorism without being at war in Afghanistan," Obama said in a Twitter message. "And I hope it provides a small measure of peace to the 9/11 families and everyone else who has suffered at the hands of al-Qaeda."