“I authorized a precision strike that would remove him from the battlefield once and for all,” Biden said.
Zawahiri was hiding in downtown Kabul to reunite with his family, Biden said, and was killed in what a senior administration official described as a “precision bespoke airstrike” using two Hellfire missiles. The drone strike was carried out at 9:48 p.m. ET Saturday and approved by Biden after weeks of meetings with his cabinet and key advisers, the official said Monday, adding that no American personnel were on the ground in Kabul at the time of the strike.
Senior Haqqani Taliban officials were aware of Zawahiri’s presence in the area, the official said, in “clear violation of the Doha Accords,” and even took steps to conceal his presence following Saturday’s successful strike. to restrict access to the shelter and to quickly relocate members of his family, including his daughter and her children, who were deliberately not attacked during the strike and were unharmed. The US did not alert Taliban officials ahead of Saturday’s strike.
In a series of tweets, Taliban spokesman Zabiullah Mujahid said: “On July 31, an airstrike was carried out on a residential building in the Sherpur area of the city of Kabul.”
He said, “The nature of the incident was not initially apparent,” but the Islamic Emirate’s security and intelligence services were investigating the incident and “initial findings indicated that the attack 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, calling it a clear violation of international principles and the Doha Accords.”
“Justice Has Been Delivered”
Biden, who was kept up to date on the strike against Zawahiri as he was isolated with a rebound case of Covid-19, spoke alfresco Monday from the Blue Room Balcony at the White House.
Zawahiri, Biden said, “was deeply involved in the planning of 9/11, one of the main contributors to the attacks that killed 2,977 people on American soil. For decades he was the mastermind behind attacks against Americans.”
“Now justice has been done and this terrorist leader no longer exists. People around the world no longer need to fear the vicious and determined killer,” he continued. “The United States continues to demonstrate our resolve and our ability to defend the American people from those who seek to harm us. We make it clear again tonight that no matter how long it takes, no matter where you hide, if you are a threat to our people, the United States will find you and eliminate you.”
The president said the precision attack targets were the result of “extraordinary persistence and skill” by the country’s intelligence agencies.
“Our intelligence agencies located Zawahiri earlier this year — he moved to downtown Kabul to reunite with members of his immediate family,” Biden said.
The attack comes a year after Biden ordered the withdrawal of US troops from Afghanistan, prompting Taliban forces to quickly seize control of the country.
Biden said Monday that as he pulled US troops out of the country, he “made the decision that after 20 years of war, the United States no longer needs thousands of boots on the ground in Afghanistan to protect America from terrorists who… are out to harm us, and I have promised the American people that we will continue to conduct effective counter-terrorism operations in Afghanistan and beyond. That’s exactly what we did.”
Biden vowed that Zawahiri “will never again allow Afghanistan to become a safe haven for terrorists because he’s gone and we’re going to make sure nothing else happens.”
In closing, the President expressed his gratitude to the US intelligence community and counterterrorism and said he hoped Zawahiri’s death would bring some degree of closure to the friends and families of the victims of 9/11.
“For those who continue to seek harm to the United States, hear me out now: We will always remain vigilant and take action — and we will always do what is necessary to keep Americans safe at home and around the world.” ,” he concluded.
Close associate of bin Laden
He eventually helped direct the deadliest terrorist attack on American soil when hijackers turned US planes into missiles.
“These 19 brothers who went out and gave their souls to Allah Almighty, God Almighty granted them this victory that we are now enjoying,” al-Zawahiri said in a video message released in April 2002.
It was the first of many mocking messages the terrorist – who became the leader of al Qaeda after the assassination of bin Laden by US forces in 2011 – would send out over the years urging militants to stop fighting continue against America, and rebuked the US leaders.
Zawahiri was on the move as the US-led invasion of Afghanistan began after the September 11, 2001 attacks. On one occasion, he narrowly escaped a US attack in the rugged, mountainous region of Tora Bora in Afghanistan, an attack that killed his wife and children.
He made his public debut as a Muslim militant while in prison for his part 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 then, al-Zawahiri, a young doctor, was already a committed terrorist who for years had conspired to overthrow the Egyptian government and attempted to replace it with fundamentalist Islamic rule. He proudly endorsed Sadat’s assassination after the Egyptian leader made peace with Israel.
After Sadat’s assassination, he spent three years in prison and claimed to have been tortured while in detention. After his release, he made his way to Pakistan, where he treated wounded mujahideen fighters fighting against the Soviet occupation of Afghanistan.
It was then that he met bin Laden and found common ground.
“We are working with Brother bin Laden,” he said when he announced in May 1998 the merger of his terrorist group, Egyptian Islamic Jihad, with al-Qaeda. “We have known him for more than 10 years now. We fought with him here in Afghanistan.”
Together, the two terrorists signed a fatwa, or declaration: “The verdict of killing and fighting Americans and their allies, whether civilian or military, is an obligation of every Muslim.”
9/11 Thought Leaders
Attacks on the US and its facilities began weeks later with the suicide bombings of US embassies in Kenya and Tanzania, killing more than 200 and injuring more than 5,000 others. Zawahiri and bin Laden rejoiced after escaping a US cruise missile strike in Afghanistan launched in retaliation.
Then there was the October 2000 attack on the USS Cole in Yemen, when suicide bombers on a rubber dinghy detonated their boat, killing 17 American sailors and injuring 39 others.
The climax of Zawahiri’s terror plans 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 en route to Washington crashed in a Pennsylvania field after passengers fought back.
Since then, al-Zawahiri has raised his public profile, appearing on numerous video and audio tapes urging Muslims to join jihad against the United States and its allies. Some of his recordings were closely followed by terrorist attacks.
For example, in May 2003, almost simultaneous suicide bombings in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia, killed 23 people, including nine Americans, days after a tape purporting to contain Zawahiri’s voice was released.
9/11 family group expresses gratitude but urges Biden to hold Saudis accountable
Terry Strada, the chairman of 9/11 Families United – a coalition of survivors and families of victims of the September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks – expressed his gratitude for the strike but urged the president to hold the Saudi Arabian government responsible for it the government’s alleged complicity in the attacks.
“I am deeply grateful for the intelligence community’s commitment and the dedication and sacrifice of our valiant military to eradicate such evil from our lives. But to take full responsibility for the murder of thousands on September 11, 2001, President Biden must also hold accountable the Saudi paymasters who funded the attacks,” Strada said in a statement.
This story was updated Monday with additional developments.
CNN’s Maegan Vazquez, Jake Tapper, Allie Malloy, Larry Register, Hamdi Alkhshali, and CNN contributors contributed to this report.