AP sources: US operation killed al-Qaeda leader al-Zawahri

WASHINGTON (AP) — A CIA drone strike killed al-Qaeda leader Ayman al-Zawahri in Afghanistan, according to five people familiar with the matter.

Current and former officials began hearing Sunday afternoon that al-Zawahri had been killed in a drone strike, but the administration delayed releasing the information until his death could be confirmed, according to one person, who spoke on condition of anonymity to discuss the matter. .

White House officials declined to confirm that al-Zawahri was killed, but noted in a statement that the United States conducted a “successful” counterterrorism operation against a key al-Qaeda target, adding that “There were no civilian casualties”.

President Joe Biden is expected to discuss further details of the operation in a 7:30 p.m. EDT address to the nation.

A US ground team was present in Afghanistan to support the strike and has since withdrawn, a senior intelligence official said.

The loss of Al-Zawahri eliminates the figure who more than anyone has shaped al-Qaeda, first as Osama bin Laden’s deputy since 1998, then as his successor. Together, he and bin Laden diverted the weapons of the jihadist movement to target the United States, carrying out the deadliest attack ever on American soil – the suicide bombings of September 11, 2001.

The attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon made bin Laden America’s No. 1 enemy. But he probably wouldn’t have been able to do it without his deputy. Bin Laden provided al-Qaeda with charisma and money, but al-Zawahri brought the tactics and organizational skills needed to forge militants into a network of cells in countries around the world.

Their bond was forged in the late 1980s, when al-Zawahri reportedly treated Saudi millionaire bin Laden in caves in Afghanistan as Soviet bombardment shook the mountains around them.

Biden planned to speak from the White House’s Blue Room balcony as he remains isolated in the residence as he continues to test positive for COVID-19.

Speaking on August 31, 2021, after the last US troops left Afghanistan, Biden said the United States would not relax its fight against terrorism there or elsewhere.

“We will maintain the fight against terrorism in Afghanistan and other countries,” he said. “We just don’t need to fight a ground war to do that.” Anticipating the strike that would occur 11 months later, Biden said at the time, “We have what are called over-the-horizon capabilities, which means we can hit terrorists and targets without American boots at the soil – or very little, if necessary. ”

There have been rumors of al-Zawahri’s death for several years. But a video surfaced in April of the al-Qaeda leader praising an Indian Muslim woman who defied a ban on wearing a hijab or headscarf. This footage was the first proof in months that he was still alive.

A statement from the Afghan Taliban government confirmed the airstrike, but did not mention al-Zawahri or any other casualties.

He said he “strongly condemns this attack and calls it a clear violation of international principles and the Doha Agreement,” the 2020 US pact with the Taliban that led to the withdrawal of US forces.

“Such actions are a repeat of the failed experiments of the past 20 years and run counter to the interests of the United States of America, Afghanistan and the region,” the statement said.

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Associated Press writers Lolita C. Baldor, James LaPorta, Zeke Miller and Aamer Madhani in Washington and Rahim Faiez in Islamabad contributed reporting.

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