WASHINGTON (AP) — A US drone strike in Afghanistan this weekend killed Ayman al-Zawahri, who took over as al-Qaeda leader following the death of Osama bin Laden in a US raid. President Joe Biden was set to declare assassination on Monday, marking a significant counter-terrorism victory just 11 months after US troops left the country after two decades of war.
The strike by the Central Intelligence Agency was confirmed by five people familiar with the matter, who spoke on condition of anonymity, before Biden briefed the American public on details of the operation at a 7:30 p.m. EDT address. were ready to give. To the nation
Current and former officials began hearing on Sunday afternoon that al-Zawahri was killed in a drone strike, but according to one person, the administration delayed releasing the information until his death was confirmed.
White House officials declined to confirm al-Zawahri’s death, but noted in a statement that the United States carried out a “successful” counterterrorism operation against a key al-Qaeda target, saying it that “no civilian casualties were reported.”
According to a senior intelligence official, the house where al-Zawahri was killed was owned by a top aide of senior Taliban leader Sirajuddin Haqqani. The official also said that after the drone strike, a CIA ground team and aerial reconnaissance confirmed al-Zawahari’s death.
The defeat of al-Zawahari put an end to the figure that shaped al-Qaeda, first as Osama bin Laden’s deputy from 1998, then as his successor. Together he and bin Laden turned the guns of the jihadist movement to target the United States and launched the deadliest attack ever on American soil – a September 11, 2001, suicide hijacking.
The attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon made bin Laden America’s enemy No. But he probably couldn’t have done it without his deputy. Bin Laden provided al-Qaeda with charisma and wealth, but al-Zawahri brought the strategy and organizational skills needed to form terrorists into a network of cells in countries around the world.
Their bond formed in the late 1980s, when al-Zawahari allegedly treated Saudi billionaire bin Laden in caves in Afghanistan as Soviet bombings shook the mountains around them.
The FBI’s Most Wanted Terrorist List had a $25 million reward on Jawahar’s head for any information that could have been used to kill or apprehend him.
Biden plans to speak from the balcony of the White House Blue Room as he remains in isolation at the residence while he continues to test positive for COVID-19.
Al-Zouhiri and bin Laden plotted the 9/11 attacks, giving many ordinary Americans their first-hand knowledge of al-Qaeda.
Photos from the time often depicted a spectacled, gentle-looking Egyptian doctor sitting next to bin Laden. Al-Zawahiri merged his group of Egyptian militants with bin Laden’s al-Qaeda in the 1990s.
Steven A. Cook wrote, “The strong Egyptian contingent applied organizational know-how, financial expertise, and military experience to wage violent jihad against leaders whom the fighters considered un-Islamic and their patrons, particularly the United States.” ” Council on Foreign Relations last year.
Speaking on August 31, 2021, after the last US troops left Afghanistan, Biden said the US would not abandon its fight against terrorism in that country or elsewhere.
“We will continue the fight against terrorism in Afghanistan and other countries,” he said. “We don’t have to fight a ground war to do it.” Previewing the strike 11 months later, Biden said at the time, “We have capabilities beyond the horizon, meaning we can attack terrorists and targets without American boots on the ground – or with very little, if necessary.”
Rumors of al-Zawahari’s death have been on and off for many years. But in April a video surfaced of an al-Qaeda leader praising an Indian Muslim woman who had violated a ban on wearing the hijab, or headscarf. That footage was the first evidence in months that he was still alive.
A statement from Afghanistan’s Taliban government confirmed the airstrike, but did not mention al-Zawahri or any other casualties.
It said it “strongly condemns this attack and calls it a clear violation of international principles and the Doha Agreement,” the 2020 US agreement with the Taliban that led to the withdrawal of US forces.
“Such action is a repetition of the failed experiences of the past 20 years and is against the interests of the United States, Afghanistan, and the region,” the statement said.
Associated Press writers Lolita C. Baldor, Ellen Nikmeyer, Zeke Miller and Aamer Madani in Washington and Rahim Faiz in Islamabad contributed reporting.
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