WASHINGTON – President Joe Biden said Monday that a US drone strike in Afghanistan over the weekend killed al Qaeda’s top leader, Ayman al-Zawahri, the successor to the terror network’s slain leader Osama. bin Laden.
“Justice has been served and this terrorist leader is no more,” the president said in a special address at the White House on Monday night.
The attack, which occurred at 9:38 p.m. ET on Saturday night, is the first known US attack in Afghanistan since Biden ended the 20-year US war in Afghanistan last August.
Al-Zawahri, 71, was standing on the balcony of a “safe house” in central Kabul that was hit by two missiles, according to a senior administration official, who discussed the attack with reporters on condition of anonymity. .
The strikes killed al-Zawahri, al-Qaida’s top leader since 2011, and no one else, including civilians, the official said, citing US intelligence. None of al-Zawahri’s family members were present.
The official credited the “careful patience and persistence” of counterterrorism professionals and decisive action by Biden, who was first briefed on al-Zawahri’s location in April and the proposed operation on July 1. Biden signed the strike following a July 25 meeting with top advisers
Al-Zawahri’s death deals a “significant blow to the group’s ability to operate even against the American homeland,” the official said. The US believes he was continuing to provide strategic direction to the vast terrorist network and called for further attacks against the US.
For several years, the US was aware of a network providing al-Zawahri with protection, according to the official. This year, the United States oversaw al-Zawahri’s wife and children moving to a safe house in Kabul, where al-Zawahri himself was later identified.
Senior Taliban leaders were aware of Zawahri’s location, a US official said.
Although he kept a low profile for most of the past 25 years, US officials never gave up the hunt for Zawahri, an Egyptian physician and eye surgeon who began as a mentor to bin Laden when the two met in Afghanistan in the 1990s.
For years, the two worked hand-in-hand to develop al-Qaeda’s global terrorist reach and capabilities, with bin Laden serving as the organization’s public face and Zawahri as a master strategist with a deep understanding of Islamic theology.
Zawahri was initially far more influential than bin Laden, serving as the leader of Egyptian Islamic Jihad, the terrorist group responsible for the 1981 assassination of Egyptian President Anwar Sadat.
Zawahri also spoke much better English than bin Laden, and over the years, he did much behind the scenes to unite and hold together the various al Qaeda factions.
Sen. Joni Ernst, R-Iowa, a combat veteran who sits on the Armed Services Committee, praised the announcement.
Al-Zawahri “has the blood of too many US military personnel and innocent civilians on his hands,” he said.
But some longtime US counterterrorism officials downplayed the significance of the attack, saying al-Zawahri over the years had never really filled the void left after the US killed bin Laden, the al Qaeda founder and the man who had united many terrorist groups. under the al-Qaeda banner in the late 1990s.
As a result, al-Qaida lacks the same top-down organizational structure it had before bin Laden’s death more than a decade ago, with at least five affiliates around the world now operating largely independently of one another. yes and the “al-Qaida core”. “elements still residing in Afghanistan, according to Javed Ali, a senior National Security Council counterterrorism official in the Trump administration who has tracked al-Zawahri and other al-Qaeda leaders for decades.
“This is a continuation of the longstanding US effort to decimate al-Qaida’s leadership over the past 20 years, and although al-Zawahri took the reins a decade ago, he never held the same status as bin Laden. He was more of a caretaker, not a visionary,” said Ali, who also spent 16 years in senior national security positions at the Defense Intelligence Agency, the Department of Homeland Security and the FBI.
It was al-Zawahri who wrote in a 1998 manifesto that killing Americans and their followers anywhere in the world “is an individual duty for every Muslim who can do it in every country where it is possible to do so.”
Three years later, he played a key role in helping bin Laden oversee the suicide kidnappings, which were conceived and orchestrated by a close Pakistani ally, Khalid Sheikh Mohammed.
Al-Zawahri’s role in 9/11 was not highlighted as much as that of bin Laden and Mohammed by the 9/11 Commission and other investigative bodies. But his leadership of the strong contingent of Egyptians who had come to Afghanistan to join al-Qaida helped provide the operational skills, organizational knowledge and financial expertise to carry out the attacks. The ringleader and main hijacker of the 9/11 plot, Mohammed Atta, was a fellow Egyptian, as were many of the organization’s top commanders who had sworn allegiance to al-Zawahri.
Al-Zawahri was initially far more influential than bin Laden, serving as the leader of Egyptian Islamic Jihad, the terrorist group responsible for the 1981 assassination of Egyptian President Anwar Sadat. “He was extremely influential,” Ali told USA TODAY. “He was a doctor, he was a thinker and he was more than 10 years older than bin Laden when they got together” in Afghanistan.
Monday’s announcement comes nearly a year after the US withdrawal from Afghanistan, which ended America’s longest war amid the Taliban’s return to power.
Collaboration: Tom Vanden Brook
Contact Joey Garrison on Twitter @joeygarrison.
This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: Biden announced the assassination of al-Qaeda target Ayman al-Zawahri