US kills al-Qaeda leader Ayman al-Zawahiri in drone strike in Afghanistan

Zawahiri, who just turned 71, had remained a visible international symbol of the group 11 years after the United States killed Osama bin Laden. At one point he acted like Bin Laden’s personal physician.

The US government has yet to confirm his death. President Joe Biden will speak at 7:30 p.m. ET on “a successful counterterrorism operation” against al-Qaeda in Afghanistan, the White House announced Monday.

“Over the weekend, the United States conducted a counterterrorism operation against a key Al-Qaeda target in Afghanistan. The operation was successful and there were no civilian casualties,” he said. said a senior administration official.

Biden, who tested positive for Covid-19 on Monday while treating a rebound case of the virus, will speak outside from the White House’s Blue Room balcony.

In a series of tweets, Taliban spokesman Zabiullah Mujahid said: “An airstrike was carried out on a residential house in the Sherpur neighborhood of Kabul city on July 31.

He said: “The nature of the incident was not apparent at first”, but the Islamic Emirate’s security and intelligence services investigated the incident and “initial findings determined that the strike had was carried out by an American drone”.

Mujahid’s tweets came out before CNN reported Zawahiri’s death. Mujahid said the Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan “strongly condemns this attack under any pretext and calls it a flagrant violation of international principles and the Doha agreement.”

The targeted assassination of Zawahiri comes a year after the US military withdrawal from Afghanistan and the Taliban takeover of the country. At the time of Kabul’s fall, Biden indicated that there would be enduring US military capabilities, namely drones, to target terrorists.

Close ally of Bin Laden

Zawahiri comes from a distinguished Egyptian family, according to the New York Times. His grandfather, Rabia’a ​​al-Zawahiri, was an imam at al-Azhar University in Cairo. His great-uncle, Abdel Rahman Azzam, was the first secretary of the Arab League.

He eventually helped stage the deadliest terrorist attack on American soil, when hijackers turned American airliners into missiles.

“Those 19 brothers who went out and gave their souls to Almighty Allah, Almighty God granted them this victory which we now enjoy,” al-Zawahiri said in a video message released in April 2002.

It was the first of many provocative messages the terrorist – who became leader of al-Qaeda after US forces killed Bin Laden in 2011 – would send over the years, urging activists to continue the fight against the America and berating American leaders.

Zawahiri was constantly on the move once the US invasion of Afghanistan began after the September 11, 2001 attacks. At one point, he narrowly escaped a US attack in the rugged and mountainous region of Tora Bora in Afghanistan, an attack that killed his wife and children.

He made his public debut as a Muslim activist while in prison for his involvement in the 1981 assassination of Egyptian President Anwar Sadat.

“We want to talk to the whole world. Who are we? Who are we?” he said in a prison interview.

By this time, al-Zawahiri, a young doctor, was already a staunch terrorist who had conspired to overthrow the Egyptian government for years and sought to replace it with a fundamentalist Islamic regime. He proudly endorsed the assassination of Sadat after the Egyptian leader made peace with Israel.

He spent three years in prison after Sadat’s assassination and claimed to have been tortured while in custody. After his release, he traveled to Pakistan, where he treated wounded mujahideen fighters who fought against the Soviet occupation of Afghanistan.

It was then that he met Bin Laden and found common cause.

“We work with brother bin Laden,” he said when announcing the merger of his terror group, the Egyptian Islamic Jihad, with al-Qaeda in May 1998. “We have known him for over 10 years now. we fought with him here in Afghanistan.”

Together, the two terrorist leaders signed a fatwa, or declaration: “The judgment to kill and fight Americans and their allies, whether civilian or military, is an obligation for every Muslim.”

The mastermind of 9/11

Attacks on the United States and its facilities began weeks later, with the suicide bombings of American embassies in Kenya and Tanzania that killed more than 200 people and injured more than 5,000 others. Zawahiri and Bin Laden were jubilant after escaping a US cruise missile attack in Afghanistan that was launched in retaliation.

Then there was the bombing of the USS Cole in Yemen in October 2000, when suicide bombers on a dinghy blew up their boat, killing 17 American sailors and injuring 39 others.

The culmination of Zawahiri’s terror plot came on September 11, 2001, when nearly 3,000 people were killed in the attacks on the twin towers of the World Trade Center and the Pentagon. A fourth hijacked airliner, bound for Washington, crashed in a field in Pennsylvania after passengers returned fire.

Since then, al-Zawahiri has raised his public profile, appearing on numerous video and audio tapes to urge Muslims to join jihad against the United States and its allies. Some of his bands have been closely followed by terrorist attacks.

In May 2003, for example, near-simultaneous suicide bombings in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia, killed 23 people, including nine Americans, days after a tape allegedly containing Zawahiri’s voice was released.

The US State Department offered a reward of up to $25 million for information leading directly to his capture. A United Nations report from June 2021 suggested that he was somewhere in the border region of Afghanistan and Pakistan, and that he was perhaps too fragile to feature in the propaganda.

This is a breaking story and will be updated.

Maegan Vazquez, Larry Register, Hamdi Alkhshali and CNN Wire staff at CNN contributed to this report.

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