BREAKING : Top al-Qaida leader al-Zawahiri killed in US drone strike in Afghanistan

MONITORING (SW) – A US drone strike in Afghanistan has killed the top al-Qaida leader Ayman al-Zawahiri, Joe Biden announced on Monday.

The US president described the death of al-Zawahiri, who was Osama Bin Laden’s deputy and successor, as a major blow to the terrorist network behind the September 11 2001 attacks, reported agencies.

“Justice has been delivered and this terrorist leader is no more,” Biden said in a live televised address from the White House. “People around the world no longer need to fear the vicious and determined killer.”

The CIA strike will be seen as a proof of the US’s ability to conduct “over-the-horizon” operations despite last year’s military’s withdrawal from Afghanistan. But it also raised questions over al-Qaida’s continued presence in the country since the Taliban regained power.

One of the world’s most wanted men, al-Zawahiri and his family had moved into a safe house in downtown Kabul, the capital, according to White House officials. He was spotted on a balcony on numerous occasions over several months and continued to produce al-Qaida propaganda videos, some of which may yet appear posthumously, reported Guardian.

Biden was personally involved in meetings to plan a potential strike against him during May, June and July, a senior administration official said on a conference call with reporters.

The president “asked detailed questions about what we knew and how we knew it. Importantly, he examined closely the model of al-Zawahiri’s house that the intelligence community had built and brought into the White House situation room for briefings on this issue.”

Biden sought explanations of lighting, weather, construction material and other factors that could influence the operation and reduce the risk of civilian casualties, the official added. “He was particularly focused on ensuring that every step had been taken to ensure the operation would minimize that risk and he wanted to understand the basis on which we had confidence in our assessment.”

The president eventually ordered a strike on the safe house at a meeting of key cabinet members and national security officials on 25 July. It was carried out at 9.48pm ET on Saturday by an unmanned aerial vehicle.

The official continued: “Two Hellfire missiles were fired at Ayman al-Zawahiri, who was killed. We are confident through our intelligence sources and methods, including multiple streams of intelligence, that we killed al-Zawahiri and no other individual.”

The official added that al-Zawahiri’s family members were present in other parts of the safe house at the time of the strike, were not targeted and were unharmed. “We have no indications that civilians were harmed in the strike. We took every possible precaution to avoid civilian harm.”

The official said members of the Taliban took action after the strike to conceal al-Zawahiri’s former presence at the location, moving swiftly to remove his wife, daughter and her children to another location.

“We have identified a concerted effort to restrict access to the safe house in the surrounding area for hours after the strike. The safe house used by al-Zawahiri is now empty.”

Islamic Emirate condemns the attack

In a statement, the Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan spokesman, Zabihullah Mujahid, confirmed that a strike took place and strongly condemned it, calling it a violation of “international principles”.

Zawahiri, an Egyptian surgeon, helped coordinate the 9/11 attacks in which four civilian aircraft were hijacked and crashed into the World Trade Center’s twin towers in New York, the Pentagon near Washington and a Pennsylvania field, killing nearly 3,000 people. He had a $25m bounty on his head.

His death raises questions about whether Zawahiri received sanctuary from the Taliban following their takeover of Kabul in August 2021.

The drone attack is the first known US strike inside Afghanistan since US troops and diplomats left the country in August 2021.

The United Nations reported last month that al-Qaida has a haven in Afghanistan under the Taliban and “increased freedom of action” with the potential of launching new long-distance attacks in coming years, according to a report from the international body, based on intelligence supplied by member states.