Al-Qaeda leader Zawahiri killed in US drone strike in downtown Kabul

  • Zawahiri found in a shelter in Kabul
  • Hit by a Hellfire missile while standing on a balcony
  • “This terrorist leader is no more” – Biden
  • Taliban ‘seriously violated’ Doha deal – Blinken

KABUL/WASHINGTON, Aug 2 (Reuters) – The United States killed al-Qaeda leader Ayman al-Zawahiri in a “precision” strike in the heart of the Afghan capital Kabul, President Joe Biden said , the biggest blow to the militant group since its inception. founder Osama bin Laden was killed in 2011.

Zawahiri, an Egyptian surgeon who had a $25 million bounty on his head, helped coordinate the September 11, 2001 attacks on the United States that killed nearly 3,000 people.

US officials, speaking on condition of anonymity, said Zawahiri was killed when he stepped onto the balcony of his safe house in Kabul at 6:18 a.m. (0148 GMT) on Sunday morning and was hit by guns. Hellfire missiles from an American drone.

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“Now justice has been served, and that terrorist leader is no more,” Biden said in televised remarks from the White House on Monday. “No matter how long it takes, no matter where you are hiding, if you are a threat to our people, the United States will find you and eliminate you.”

Biden said he authorized the precision strike in downtown Kabul after months of planning and no civilians were killed.

Three Taliban administration spokesmen in Kabul declined to comment on Zawahiri’s death.

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

A Home Office spokesman said a house had been hit by a rocket in Sherpoor, a leafy, upscale residential area in the center of the city.

“There were no casualties because the house was empty,” said spokesman Abdul Nafi Takor.

Taliban authorities launched a safety net around Sherpoor’s house on Tuesday and journalists were not allowed near it.

A woman who lives in the neighborhood and spoke to Reuters on condition of anonymity said she and her family of nine had moved to the secure room in their home when she heard an explosion over the weekend. When she then went to the roof, she saw no commotion or chaos and assumed it was a rocket or bomb attack – not uncommon in Kabul.

A senior Taliban official told Reuters that Zawahiri was previously in Helmand province and moved to Kabul after the Taliban took control of the country in August last year.

US intelligence has determined with “high confidence” through multiple intelligence feeds that the slain man was Zawahiri, a senior administration official told reporters.

“Zawahiri continued to pose an active threat to the people, interests, and national security of the United States,” the official said on a conference call. “His death is a severe blow to al-Qaeda and will degrade the group’s ability to function.”

PROVIDE A SANCTUARY

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

There have been rumors of Zawahiri’s death on several occasions in recent years, and he has long been reported to be in poor health.

The drone attack is the first known U.S. strike in Afghanistan since U.S. troops and diplomats left the country in August 2021. The move could bolster the credibility of Washington’s assurances that the U.S. can still meet the challenges. threats from Afghanistan without a military presence in the country.

His death also raises questions about whether Zawahiri received refuge from the Taliban after they took over Kabul in August 2021. The senior administration official said senior Taliban officials were aware of his presence in the city and said the United States expected the Taliban to honor an agreement not to allow al-Qaeda fighters to resettle in the country.

“The Taliban will have to answer for al-Zawahiri’s presence in Kabul, having assured the world that they will not give refuge to al-Qaeda terrorists,” said Adam Schiff, chairman of the parliamentary standing committee on the information in a press release.

US Secretary of State Antony Blinken said the Taliban had “seriously violated” the Doha agreement between the two sides by taking in and harboring Zawahiri.

Former President Barack Obama joined lawmakers in hailing the operation.

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“It is possible to eradicate terrorism without being at war in Afghanistan,” Obama said in a post on Twitter. “And I hope it brings some peace to the 9/11 families and all those who suffered at the hands of al-Qaeda.”

Republican U.S. Senator Marco Rubio said, “The world is safer without him and this strike demonstrates our continued commitment to tracking down all terrorists responsible for 9/11 and those who continue to pose a threat to U.S. interests.

Until the US announcement, Zawahiri was rumored to be in the Pakistani tribal area or inside Afghanistan.

A video released in April in which he praised an Indian Muslim woman for defying a ban on wearing an Islamic headscarf dispelled rumors that he was dead.

WIFE, FAMILY IN SAME HOUSE

The senior US official said Zawahiri’s discovery was the result of persistent counter-terrorism work. The United States discovered this year that Zawahiri’s wife, daughter and children had moved to a safe house in Kabul, then identified that Zawahiri was there as well, the official said.

“Once Zawahiri arrived on the scene, we don’t know that he ever left the safe house,” the official said. He was identified several times on the balcony, where he was finally beaten. He continued to produce videos from the house and some may be released after his death, the official said.

In recent weeks, Biden has summoned officials to review the information. He was briefed throughout May and June and was briefed on July 1 of a proposed operation by intelligence chiefs. On July 25, he received an updated report and authorized the strike as soon as an opportunity arose, the administration official said.

Along with other senior al-Qaeda figures, Zawahiri allegedly plotted the Oct. 12, 2000 attack on the Navy ship USS Cole in Yemen that killed 17 U.S. sailors and injured more than 30 others, according to the website. Rewards for Justice.

He was indicted in the United States for his role in the August 7, 1998 bombings of American embassies in Kenya and Tanzania that left 224 dead and more than 5,000 injured.

Bin Laden and Zawahiri both evaded capture when US-led forces overthrew the Afghan Taliban government in late 2001 following the September 11 attacks on the United States.

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Reporting by Idrees Ali and Jeff Mason; Additional reporting by Alexandra Alper, Eric Beech, Jonathan Landay, Arshad Mohammed, Patricia Zengerle, Matt Spetalnick in Washington, Jibran Ahmad in Peshawar and Reuters staff in Kabul; Written by Raju Gopalakrishnan; Editing by Stephen Coates and Edmund Klamann

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David H. Henry