CIA drone strike kills top al-Qaida leader in Kabul
Biden hopes death of 9/11 plotter helps families of victims
WASHINGTON — President Joe Biden expressed hope Monday night that the killing of al-Qaida leader Ayman al-Zawahri brings “one more measure of closure” to families of the victims of the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks on the United States.
Biden made the comments as he confirmed that a U.S. drone strike in Afghanistan this weekend killed al-Qaida leader Ayman al-Zawahri.
“He will never again, never again, allow Afghanistan to become a terrorist safe haven because he is gone, and we’re going to make sure that nothing else happens,” Biden said in an address from the White House formally announcing the operation.
“This terrorist leader is no more,” Biden said.
He said U.S. intelligence officials tracked al-Zawahri to a home in downtown Kabul where he was hiding with his family. The president approved the operation last week, and it was carried out over the weekend.
The strike, carried out by the CIA, delivering a significant counterterrorism win just 11 months after American troops left
the country after a two-decade war.
Al-Zawahri’s loss eliminates the figure who more than anyone shaped al-Qaida, first as Osama bin Laden’s deputy since 1998, then as his successor. Together, he and bin Laden turned the jihadi movement’s guns to target the United States, carrying out the deadliest attack ever on American soil — the Sept. 11, 2001, suicide hijackings.
The house Al-Zawahri was in when he was killed was owned by a top aide to senior Taliban leader Sirajuddin Haqqani, according to a senior intelligence official. The official also added that a CIA ground team and aerial reconnaissance conducted after the drone strike confirmed al-Zawahri’s death. Planning for the operation began six months ago, but intensified in the last two months, the official said.
Over the 20-year war in Afghanistan, the U.S. targeted and splintered al-Qaida, sending leaders into hiding. But America’s exit from Afghanistan last September gave the extremist group the opportunity to rebuild. U.S. military officials, including Gen. Mark Milley, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, have said that al-Qaida was trying to reconstitute in Afghanistan, where it faced limited threats from the now-ruling Taliban. Military leaders have warned that the group still aspired to attack the U.S.
The 2001 attacks on the World Trade Center and Pentagon made bin Laden America’s Enemy No. 1. But he likely could never have carried it out without his deputy. Bin Laden provided al-Qaida with charisma and money, but al-Zawahri brought 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 the Saudi millionaire bin Laden in the caves of Afghanistan as Soviet bombardment shook the mountains around them.
Zawahri, on the FBI’s Most Wanted Terrorist list, had a $25 million bounty on his head for any information that could be used to kill or capture him.
Al-Zawhiri and bin Laden plotted the 9/11 attacks that brought many ordinary Americans their first knowledge of al-Qaida.
Photos from the time often showed the glasses-wearing, mild-looking Egyptian doctor sitting by the side of bin Laden. Al-Zawahiri had merged his group of Egyptian militants with bin Laden’s al-Qaida in the 1990s.
“The strong contingent of Egyptians applied organizational know-how, financial expertise, and military experience to wage a violent jihad against leaders whom the fighters considered to be un-Islamic and their patrons, especially the United States,” Steven A. Cook wrote for the Council on Foreign Relations last year.
When the 2001 U.S. invasion of Afghanistan demolished al-Qaida’s safe haven and scattered, killed and captured its members, al-Zawahri ensured al-Qaida’s survival.
He rebuilt its leadership in the Afghan-Pakistan border region and installed allies as lieutenants in key positions.
He also reshaped the organization from a centralized planner of terror attacks into the head of a franchise chain. He led the assembling of a network of autonomous branches around the region, including in Iraq, Saudi Arabia, North Africa, Somalia, Yemen and Asia.
Over the next decade, al-Qaida inspired or had a direct hand in attacks in all those areas as well as Europe, Pakistan and Turkey, including the 2004 train bombings in Madrid and the 2005 transit bombings in London.