Ayman al-Zawahri, a key plotter of the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks, was killed in a drone strike in Kabul over the weekend. He had never given up targeting Americans.
American intelligence agencies tracked down al-Zawahri in Kabul earlier this year and killed him on a balcony of a house without killing anyone else, including members of his family or any nearby civilians, officials said.
The first strike since the withdrawal without American forces actually on the ground will bolster Mr. Biden’s argument that the United States can still wage war against terrorist organizations without the major deployments of ground forces that characterized the first two decades after Sept. 11.
While celebrating al-Zawahri’s killing, Republicans wasted little time asserting that the president’s withdrawal had endangered the country. But Zalmay Khalilzad, the envoy who negotiated the original withdrawal agreement, called the strike a validation of the rational for pulling out.
Ayman al-Zawahri, 71, was considered the intellectual force behind Al Qaeda and merged his organization with Bin Laden’s to expand its reach. He was killed in a strike by the U.S. military.
The C.I.A. missiles hit a house in Kabul’s Sherpur area, killing a high-ranking Taliban official. The Haqqani network tried to conceal the killing, but the United States had multiple intelligence threads confirming the death.
The Taliban have repeatedly said they are adhering to the Doha agreement and are not allowing Afghanistan to become a base for attacks on other countries. But analysts and experts have warned that terrorist groups like Al Qaeda and the Pakistani Taliban have found refuge in Afghanistan since the takeover.
Al-Zawahri was long believed to have been living in Pakistan
But was killed in Kabul, a testament to Al Qaeda’s decades-long use of facilities, houses, buildings and compounds throughout both countries.
American intelligence learned that al-Zawahri’s family had relocated to a house in Kabul, and they used different sources and methods to build a pattern of life that confirmed his presence.
The president was briefed on the intelligence in April by Jonathan Finer and Elizabeth Sherwood-Randall. On July 1, William J. Burns, Avril D. Haines, Christine Abizaid, and other officials discussed the planned operation with Mr. Biden.
The strike against the Islamic State was an important achievement for Mr. Biden, but his predecessors have seen little lasting political benefit from such successes.
In the months since the United States withdrew from Afghanistan, American military and diplomatic officials have discussed with allies where to reposition American forces for strikes on high-value targets in Afghanistan. A drone strike in Kabul killed 10 civilians, and the United States has since taken more precautions to prevent civilian casualties.
Al-Zawahri was a competent if uninspiring leader who managed to keep together Al Qaeda’s disparate global franchises even as branches in Yemen and West Africa’s Sahel region exerted more independence and authority, officials said.
The former top U.S. liaison to the Taliban called the strike a validation of the rationale for withdrawing from Afghanistan.
The United States claims the Taliban government violated the peace agreement by allowing al-Zawahri into the country, but the Taliban claims the U.S. violated the peace agreement by conducting a strike.
A key moment in the planning of the strike appears to have been a July 1 White House briefing. Officials discussed the planned operation with Biden and showed him a model of al-Zawahri’s house.
Biden’s speech was reminiscent of one that Obama had delivered 11 years ago after the death of Osama bin Laden.
The Haqqani network tried to conceal that Zawahri had been at the house, but the U.S. had multiple intelligence threads confirming his death.
Biden’s message to terrorists was clear: we will always remain vigilant and act to ensure the safety of Americans.
Biden invoked the Sept. 11 attacks, and al-Zawahri was a central plotter in Al Qaeda.
President Biden said the drone strike over the weekend was evidence that he was right to end the military mission in Afghanistan.
Biden said al-Zawahri’s killing was a demonstration of the United States’ resolve to go after terrorist leaders.
President Biden announced the killing of Ayman al-Zawahri, calling him “one of the most responsible for the attacks that murdered 2,977 people on American soil”.
Al-Zawahri was long believed to have lived in Pakistan, but was killed in Kabul, a testament to Al Qaeda’s decades-long use of locations throughout both countries.
President Biden insisted the U.S. would retain an “over-the-horizon” intelligence capability, and the killing of al-Zawahri is the first evidence that it was possible.
The C.I.A. strike showed that the U.S. can continue to spot threats in Afghanistan, even without American troops, said an expert.
Ayman al-Zawahri was a competent if uninspiring leader who managed to keep together Al Qaeda’s disparate global franchises even as branches in Yemen and West Africa’s Sahel region exerted more independence and authority, counterterrorism officials said.
Al-Zawahiri had been more active in releasing videos in the year since the Taliban took over Afghanistan, which could have led to a lapse in operational security.
The death of al-Zawahri will likely prompt fierce infighting among younger Qaeda leaders to assume the mantle of the terror group.
The Egyptian-born surgeon-turned-jihadist who assumed the leadership of Al Qaeda after the killing of Osama bin Laden, led a life steeped in secrecy, betrayal, conspiracy and violence, most murderously in the Sept. 11 attacks against the United States in 2001.
Al-Zawahri led a cat-and-mouse existence, hiding out in the craggy redoubts of Afghanistan and Pakistan’s tribal areas.
Al Qaeda’s aims and ideology evolved from a hatred of secular rule in Egypt to a virulent campaign to strike at the so-called “far enemy,” the United States, Al Qaeda’s target of preference. Al Qaeda’s tactical strength lay in its ability to launch spectacular assaults.
A new generation of jihadists had grown up in Iraq and Syria after the American invasion, and the Islamic State rose to prominence as a result. It declared a new caliphate for the world’s Muslims.
Both groups were rooted in Sunni Muslim extremism, but the Islamic State sought hegemony among jihadist groups and thirsted for territorial expansion. Al Qaeda’s affiliates showed increasing readiness to cooperate with other groups and little appetite for occupation.
Al-Zawahri played a winning card by introducing Hamza bin Laden to followers, and exhorted them to carry out “the highest number of attacks” on Western cities.
Hamza bin Laden was among a group of Bin Laden relatives who took refuge in Iran after the Sept. 11 attacks. He had at least two wives, including a daughter of al-Zawahri’s.
Hamza bin Laden was killed in Afghanistan, and his deputies were also killed. Abu al-Khayr al-Masri was killed by a drone strike in Syria.
Ayman Muhammad Rabie al-Zawahri, one of five children, was born in 1951 in Maadi, a Cairo suburb. His family was prominent, but they displayed little evident prosperity and never owned a car until Ayman was grown.
Al-Zawahri was a brilliant student who opposed contact sports and read Islamist literature. He was influenced by Sayyid Qutb, who was imprisoned and tortured in Egypt and hanged there in 1966.
Al-Zawahri helped form an underground militant cell in 1966. He kept his involvement secret from even his family while attending medical school.
Al-Zawahri met Azza Nowair through his and her families, and they were married in 1979. At the ceremony, there was no music or photography.
Azza al-Zawahri and her children were killed in Afghanistan in October 2001. She had refused to be pulled from the rubble.
Al-Zawahri was working in a clinic in Egypt when he visited Peshawar, Pakistan, for the Red Crescent, the Muslim correlate of the Red Cross. He recognized Afghanistan as a good place to launch a jihad, returning many times.
Al-Zawahri was released from prison in 1984 and went to Saudi Arabia, where he became Bin Laden’s physician and security force. He helped the Saudi begin thinking about specific ways to hurt the Western powers and the Middle Eastern governments they supported.
Al-Zawahri explained Al Qaeda’s deviation from Islamic teachings by claiming that a martyr’s true faith reversed these prohibitions.
His turn of phrase shone in his greeting to President Barack Obama in 2008, and he also advised moderation to Abu Musab al-Zarqawi in 2005.
In 1990, Islamist guerrillas forced the Soviets out of Afghanistan, and Bin Laden and al-Zawahri established camps in Sudan and Yemen.
Al-Zawahri organized several terrorist acts, including an assassination attempt on the Egyptian prime minister. Two teenage boys were blackmailed into planting listening devices in homes of Islamic Jihad members.
Al-Zawahri persuaded the Sudanese authorities to release two boys, who were later tried for treason and killed. Al-Zawahri’s organization was expelled from Sudan, and the Arab radicals returned to Afghanistan.