Ayman al-Zawahiri killed, says Biden, al-Qaeda leader was Osama bin Laden’s No. 2

Leader of Al-Qaeda Ayman al-Zawahiri was killed this weekend in a drone strike as part of a US counterterrorism operation, President Joe Biden announced Monday evening.

“He has laid a trail of murder and violence against American citizens, American military personnel, American diplomats and American interests,” President Biden said in his brief remarks from the balcony of the White House. “Now justice has been served. And that terrorist leader is no more.”

The president said al-Zawahiri was killed in Kabul. The US government had several independent sources confirming al-Zawahiri’s whereabouts at a safe house, a senior administration official told reporters in a phone call late Monday. He was finally taken away by a drone at 9:48 p.m. ET Saturday, while he was on the balcony of the hideout and his family members were in different rooms of the house. The US government, the senior administration official said, is confident no one else was killed in the attack.

The senior administration official said the strike was the result of painstaking, patient and persistent work by counterterrorism officials over months and years. The official also noted Mr. Biden’s quick and decisive action once they determined the whereabouts of the al-Qaeda leader.

The senior administration official said the president receives regular updates as the US government focuses on al-Zawahiri. Once the refuge was located, the president wanted to know more about the arrangement of the doors and windows of the refuge to avoid other victims. At a July 25 meeting, the president authorized a precise and tailored airstrike that would minimize civilian deaths as much as possible, the senior administration official said.

With the death of al-Zawahiri, all the major plotters of the September 11, 2001, terrorist attacks are dead or captured.

The strike comes nearly a year after the withdrawal of US troops from Afghanistan, something that did not escape the president. The Biden administration has long argued that it can continue to deal with terrorist threats against the American people without boots on the ground in Afghanistan, from “on the other side of the horizon.”

US President Joe Biden delivers remarks on the killing of al-Qaeda leader Ayman al-Zawahiri in a US drone strike
U.S. President Joe Biden addresses the nation on the killing of al-Qaeda leader Ayman al-Zawahiri in a U.S. drone strike, in Washington, U.S. August 1, 2022. Jim Watson/Pool


“When I ended our military mission in Afghanistan nearly a year ago, I made the decision that after 20 years of war, the United States no longer needed thousands of boots on ground in Afghanistan to protect America from terrorists who seek to harm us,” Biden said. “I promised the American people that we would continue to conduct effective counterterrorism operations in Afghanistan and beyond. That is exactly what we have done.”

Two intelligence sources familiar with the matter said the strike was carried out by the CIA. A senior administration official said there were no civilian casualties, which the president reiterated late Monday.

The president, who tested positive with a COVID-19 rebound casesmade his remarks outside from a White House balcony.

Taliban spokesman Zabihullah Mujahid confirmed an airstrike carried out by a drone in Kabul on Monday. He said the Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan considers this a clear violation of international principles.

But former acting CIA director and CBS News contributor Michael Morell said after the president’s remarks that “it’s really hard for me to believe [al-Zawahiri] was in Kabul without the knowledge of at least some of the Taliban leadership.”

Noting that al-Zawahiri was “living there quite openly, not trying to hide”, Morell said the strike sends a clear message to all other al-Qaeda members in Afghanistan that they still need to be concerned about their security, despite the fact that the United States no longer has troops there.

Al-Zawahiri has long been a wanted man. After the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001, then-President George W. Bush released a list of the FBI’s 22 most wanted terrorists, with al-Zawahiri leading the list along with Osama bin Laden.

For years, al-Zawahiri was known as al-Qaeda’s No. 2, but many analysts believe he was really the mastermind behind bin Laden’s operation.

Osama bin Laden and Ayman al-Zawahiri
Al-Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden, left, sits with his adviser Ayman al-Zawahiri, during an interview with a Pakistani journalist at an undisclosed location in Afghanistan for an article published November 10, 2001.

Getty Images

Bin Laden was killed by US special forces in 2011, but al-Zawahiri escaped assassination attempts and an international manhunt until his death.

Zawahiri continued to post video statements, including one on September 11, 2021, although it is unclear whether this recording was new or old. It had been rumored for years that he was dead, and the United States offered $25 million for information that could lead to his arrest.

– Arden Farhi, Nancy Cordes, Andres Triay, Ahmad Muktar, Pat Milton and Olivia Gazis of CBS News contributed to this report.

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