Al Qaeda leader Zawahiri killed in CIA drone strike
Al Qaeda leader Ayman al-Zawahiri was killed in a U.S. strike in Afghanistan over the weekend, President Joe Biden said on Monday, the biggest blow to the militant group since its founder Osama bin Laden was killed in 2011.
Zawahiri, an Egyptian surgeon who had a $25 million bounty on his head, helped coordinate Sept. 11, 2001, attacks that killed nearly 3,000 people.
With other senior al Qaeda members, Zawahiri is believed to have plotted the October 12, 2000, attack on the USS Cole naval vessel in Yemen which killed 17 U.S. sailors and injured more than 30 others, the Rewards for Justice website said.
He was indicted in the United States for his role in August 7, 1998, bombings of the U.S. embassies in Kenya and Tanzania that killed 224 people and wounded more than 5,000 others.
Zawahiri's whereabouts – variously rumoured to be in Pakistan's tribal area or inside Afghanistan – had been unknown until the strike.
Both bin Laden and Zawahiri eluded capture when U.S.-led forces toppled Afghanistan’s Taliban government in late 2001 following the Sept. 11 attacks on the United States.
Bin Laden was killed in 2011 by U.S. forces in Pakistan.
U.S. officials, speaking on the condition of anonymity, said the United States carried out a drone strike in the Afghan capital Kabul on Sunday morning at 6:18 a.m. local time.
U.S. intelligence determined with "high confidence" that the man killed was Zawahiri, a senior administration official told reporters. No other casualties occurred.
In a statement, Taliban spokesman Zabihullah Mujahid confirmed that a strike took place and strongly condemned it, calling it a violation of "international principles."
"Now justice has been delivered, and this terrorist leader is no more," Biden said in remarks from the White House. "We never back down."
"Zawahiri continued to pose an active threat to U.S. 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."
There were rumours of Zawahiri's death several times in recent years, and he was long reported to have been in poor health.
His death 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.
The drone attack is the first known U.S. strike inside Afghanistan since U.S. 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.