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Friday, July 19, 2024

Al-Qaeda leader al-Zawahiri killed by US strike in Afghanistan

'Justice has been delivered, and this terrorist leader is no more,' says US President Joe Biden

A US drone strike killed al-Qaeda leader Ayman al-Zawahiri in Afghanistan over the weekend in what President Joe Biden said was a “clear demonstration” of American resolve to carry out its fight against the terrorist group.

“Now justice has been delivered, and this terrorist leader is no more,” Biden said from the White House’s Blue Room balcony in nationally-televised remarks. “We made it clear again tonight that 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.”

Zawahiri had long evaded US efforts seeking to kill or capture him. He led the US-designated terrorist group since 2011, when American forces killed al-Qaeda founder Osama bin Laden in Pakistan.

Read more: Taliban and Al-Qaeda: A bond unbroken?

The US strike took place early Sunday morning local time and targeted a safe house in downtown Kabul that Zawahiri, his wife, daughter and grandchildren had relocated to earlier this year, according to a senior administration official who briefed reporters on condition of anonymity.

The US had studied the location for months, and Biden received updates since May. His intelligence community put forward a potential operation to take out Zawahiri on July 1, and the president worked since then to ensure any strike “would minimize” the risk of civilian casualties, the official said.

The official said two hellfire missiles were fired from a US drone targeting Zawahiri while he was alone, and none of his family members or other civilians were killed during the strike.

US intelligence indicates that members of the Taliban worked to conceal the al-Qaeda leader’s presence at the building after the strike and carried out what the official said was a “concerted effort to restrict access to the safe house and the surrounding area for hours after the strike.”

“Taliban members acted quickly to remove Zawahiri’s wife, his daughter and her children to another location consistent with a broader effort to cover up that they had been living in the safe house,” she said.

Zawahiri’s presence in Kabul was a “clear violation” of the agreement the US struck under former President Donald Trump for the withdrawal of American forces from Afghanistan, the official said, noting the US expects “to continue to have a dialogue with them about matters of our interests.”

Read more: US drone kills ‘senior Al-Qaeda leader’

“Going forward with the Taliban, we’ll continue to hold them accountable for their actions. And we have made clear with them in the intervening days that we also expect them to take no action that would harm Mark Frerichs as we are involved in efforts to secure his release after his long detention and captivity,” the official added.

Frerichs is an American national who has been held in Afghanistan since 2020.

For its part, the Taliban condemned the US attack, calling it a “clear violation of international principles and the Doha Agreement,” a reference to the pact that set out the US exit from Afghanistan.

Zawahiri was originally from Egypt and had spent decades in al-Qaeda serving as its deputy leader under bin Laden before assuming the mantle over a decade ago. He is believed to have plotted the 2000 attack on the USS Cole in Yemen which killed 17 US sailors and helped coordinate the Sept. 11, 2001 terrorist attacks on New York City and the Pentagon.

Read more: Al Qaeda chief Zawahiri praises Muslim student in India Hijab row

The US had offered a reward of up to $25 million for information on him under its Rewards for Justice program.

Anadolu with additional input by GVS News Desk