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US kills Al Qaeda’s top terror leader, Bin Laden deputy in airstrike

Osama bin Laden sits with his adviser Dr. Ayman al-Zawahiri during an interview with Pakistani journalist Hamid Mir. Hamid in Nov. 2001 in Kabul. (Hamid Mir/WikiMedia)
August 01, 2022

President Joe Biden announced on Monday evening that a U.S. airstrike in Afghanistan over the weekend killed Al Qaeda’s top terror leader Ayman al-Zawahri, who was Osama bin Laden’s right-hand man.

The precision airstrike took place Saturday night U.S. time when an unmanned U.S. drone fired two hellfire missiles at Al-Zawahri was he was positioned on the balcony of his safehouse in downtown Kabul.

Biden called Al-Zawahri the deputy of terrorist mastermind Osama bin Laden who was “deeply involved in the planning of 9/11” and the deaths of 2,977 people in those attacks. Al-Zawahri also helped orchestrate the 2000 bombing of USS Cole that killed 17 U.S. sailors and injured dozens more.

Al-Zawahiri, an Egyptian doctor, became Al Qaeda’s top terror leader after the 2011 death of Bin Laden. He had repeatedly surfaced on the anniversary of the 9/11 terrorist attacks to renew calls for attacks against the U.S. On the anniversary in 2018, he called the U.S. the “number one enemy of Muslims.”

“Now justice has been delivered, and this terrorist leader is no more,” Biden said. “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 take you out.”

Biden said he gave final approval for the operation one week ago after receiving months of intelligence and carefully considering operational details that would reduce the risk of civilian casualties. Biden and senior administration officials confirmed that intelligence indicated Al-Zawahiri was the only person killed in the strike.

A senior administration official said the strike was a “team effort” carried out by “the U.S. government,” declining to provide details into which agencies played a role in the operation. The official confirmed that no American personnel were on the ground.

The official described Al-Zawahiri as the “world’s most wanted terrorist” who was one of the last remaining figures of Bin Laden’s original group. The official said his death “deals a significant blow to Al Qaeda and will degrade the group’s ability to act against the U.S.”

Taliban members took action to conceal Al-Zawahiri’s presence from the safehouse in Kabul after his death, including quickly relocating his family members and emptying the safehouse, a senior administration official said.

The strike comes 11 months after the last U.S. troops left Afghanistan, concluding the 20-year conflict. The withdrawal was marked by a months-long drawdown while the Taliban quickly overtook Afghan territory and forced many of the U.S.-trained Afghan military to flee. As the U.S. worked to evacuate thousands of Americans and Afghan refugees, a suicide bombing at Hamid Karzai International Airport killed 11 U.S. Marines, one Navy Corpsman, and one Army paratrooper.