President Joe Biden on Monday evening announced the killing of Al Qaeda leader Ayman al-Zawahiri, calling him the ‘mastermind behind attacks against Americans’ for decades.
In his remarks, Biden repeatedly invoked the September 11th terrorist attacks, which al-Zawahiri helped plan, and said the killing of al-Zawahiri demonstrated the resolve of the United States to go after terrorist leaders, no matter where they hide and how long it takes.
‘Now, justice has been delivered, and this terrorist leader is no more,’ he said. ‘We made 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.’
Al-Zawahiri, 71, was killed by two hellfire missiles fired from CIA drones as he stood on the balcony of his safe house in downtown Kabul this weekend in a mission that took six months to plan.
His wife, daughter, and grandchildren were living with him but were not harmed, American officials said.
Biden laid out al-Zawahiri’s role in the terrorist organization, noting that, in addition to the 9/11 attacks, he was behind the bombing of the USS Cole in 2000 and the attacks on U.S. embassies in Kenya and Tanzania in 1998.
‘He carved a trail of murder and violence against American citizens, American service members, American diplomats, and American interests,’ Biden said.
Biden concluded his remarks with a warning: ‘To those around the world who continue to seek to harm the United States, hear me now. We will always remain vigilant, and we will act, and we will always do what is necessary to ensure the safety and security of Americans at home and around the globe.’
It was the United State’s most significant strike against al Qaeda since the killing of Osama bin Laden in 2011. Al-Zawahiri replace bin Laden as the terrorist group’s top leader.
Biden, who remains in isolation after a rebound case of covid, made his address from the first floor balcony off the Blue Room of the White House.
Al-Zawahiri was on the FBI’s most-wanted terrorist list. There was a $25 million reward for information leading directly to him.
President Joe Biden announced the killing of Al Qaeda leader Ayman al-Zawahiri, calling him the ‘mastermind behind attacks against Americans’ for decades
Osama bin Laden’s second-in-command Ayman al-Zawahiri was killed in a CIA drone attack in Kabul this weekend
A user on Twitter posted an image from the scene of the strike against al-Zawahiri in Kabul
Al-Zawahiri was Bin Laden’s No 2 in Al-Qaeda, the radical jihadist network once led by the Saudi millionaire. The two are seen above in this September 2006 file photo
Timeline of Biden’s operation to take out al Qaeda leader Ayman al-Zawahiri
Sept. 11, 2001 – Attack on the twin towers of the World Trade Center. Al-Zawahiri is Osama bin Laden’s top deputy
May 2, 2011 – Successful US operation to take out bin Laden at compound in Abbottabad, Pakistan
2011 – Al-Zawahiri succeeds bin Laden following the successful U.S. operation to take out world’s top terror leader
US intelligence over several months gains ‘increased confidence’ terror leader’s family has relocated to a safe house
Early April – Top security staffers are informed of ‘developing intelligence’
Shortly thereafter, National Security Advisor Jake Sullivan briefs President Biden
US officials develop ‘pattern of life’ for Al-Zawahiri
Al-Zawahiri arrives at the safe house location; US not aware of him ever leaving after he arrived
Al-Zawahiri continues to crank out videos attacking the US and allies
US investigates ‘construction and nature of of the safe house’ and building integrity so strike could kill the terror leader without endangering civilians
Officials undertake operation to determine identity of all the people in the safe house
Officials ‘systematically eliminated all reasonable options’ other than a strike.
Officials series of ‘close-hold’ briefing to vet intelligence
‘Key’ agencies brought into the process to make sure information is ‘rock solid’ and develop alternatives and minimize risks to civilians
During the last few weeks of this period, Biden convenes several meetings with advisors and cabinet members to scrutinize intelligence
May and June – Biden receives updates
July 1 – Biden is briefed on a proposed operation in the White House Situation Room by key members of his cabinet. Attending are CIA Director William Burns, counterterrorism experts, Director of National Intelligence Avril Haines, and National Counterterrorism Center Director Christine Abizaid, national security adviser Jake Sullivan, Principal Deputy National Security Adviser Finer
Biden examines a model that was constructed of the safe house inside the Situation Room
Biden requests further information on building plans and likely effects of a strike
Directs intel community to prepare impact analyses. Asks intel to consider risks to Mark Randall Frerichs, an American who disappeared in Afghanistan in 2020, impact on future access to Afghan air space, and on efforts to evacuate Afghan partners
June and July – Principals and deputies convene in Situation Room multiple times to ‘test the intelligence picture’
‘Tight circle’ of agency lawyers confirms legal basis. They conclude al-Zawahiri is a lawful target.
Biden asks all present for their view. ‘All strongly recommended approval of this target’
July 25 – Biden convenes advisors and key cabinet for final meeting on updated intel. Asks again about other options, the layout of rooms, and impacts.
At the end of the meeting, Biden ‘authorized a precise tailored airstrikes on the condition that have strike minimize, to the greatest extent possible the risk of civilian casualties.’
July 30, 9:48 pm EDT – US undertakes ‘precision counterterrorism operation in Kabul’ to take out al-Zawahiri
In a statement, Taliban spokesman Zabihullah Mujahid confirmed that a strike took place and strongly condemned it, calling it a violation of ‘international principles.’
The strike was conducted on a residential house in Kabul’s Sherpur area, a wealthy downtown neighborhood where several Taliban government officials live.
The house that was struck was owned by a top aide to Sirajuddin Haqqani, the Interior Minister for the Taliban. He is close to senior al Qaeda officials and is wanted by the FBI for questioning.
Al-Zawahiri was standing on the balcony of the three-story home when two RX9 missiles – a hellfire missile armed with long blades aimed at killing targets with kinetic energy to minimize major collateral damage – struck.
The hellfire missiles were developed for precision drone strikes and are often used against high-value targets.
The strike was carried out in the early morning hours of Sunday Kabul time – 6:18 am there and 9:48 pm Saturday night in the United States after U.S. intelligence officials learned al-Zawahiri moved to Afghanistan in the last year.
‘This year we identified that al-Zawahiri family his wife, his daughter, and her children relocated to a safe house in Kabul,’ a senior administration official told reporters on a background briefing call ahead of Biden’s speech.
Al-Zawahiri was never seen leaving that safe house, the official said.
The official said only al-Zawahiri was killed and that members of the Haqqani network, a terrorist group that is part of the Taliban government, removed his family from the safe house ‘to another location consistent with a broader effort to cover up that they had been living in the space.’
‘Al-Zawahiri family members were present in other parts of the safe house at the time of the strike, and were purposefully not targeted and were unharmed,’ the official said.
Biden was first briefed on Al-Zawahiri’s location on July 1. The official described their intelligence as ‘rock solid.’
The official said Biden asked ‘detailed questions’ on their intelligence, examined a model of the house that intelligence officials built and brought into the Situation Room for him to see, and asked about the possibility of civilian casualties.
On July 25th, Biden made the decision to authorize the strike.
‘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 upon which we had confidence in our assessments. The President requested further information on the building plans and about likely effects of a strike,’ the official said.
Biden was in isolation with his rebound case of covid when the strike was carried out but was kept informed when it began and when it ended, the official noted.
The Biden administration also made clear they expect the Taliban to abide by the terms of the Doha agreement, which outlined the terms for the American troop withdrawal from Afghanistan, and that al-Zawahiri’s presence in the Afghan capitol city was a ‘clear violation’ of the agreement.
‘Obviously this is a very important point for us to make clear that follow up on that we expect them to abide by the terms of the Doha agreement, and the presence of al-Zawahiri in downtown Kabul with a clear violation of that,’ the official said.
‘Going forward with the Taliban, we will continue to hold them accountable for their actions,’ the officials. ‘We will take action to protect our interests, pursuant to the terms of the agreement, which is firm that it al Qaeda should never be allowed to re-establish itself in Afghanistan.’
It was the first attack in Afghanistan since American forces left last year. It took six months to plan.
President Biden, in his remarks, said the drone strike on al-Zawahiiri was evidence that he was right when he told Americans last summere that removing all U.S. troops from Afghanistan would not undermine the United States’ ability to fight terrorism.
‘When I ended our military mission in Afghanistan almost a year ago, I made the decision that after 20 years of war, the United States no longer needed thousands of boots on the ground in Afghanistan, to protect America from terrorists who seek to do us harm. And I made a promise to the American people that we would continue to conduct effective counterterrorism operations in Afghanistan and beyond. We’ve done just that,’ he said.
Al-Zawahiri took over al Qaeda after bin Laden’s death in 2011, when bin Laden was killed in a raid by U.S. forces in Pakistan in 2011.
In 1998, he was indicted for his alleged role in the August 7, 1998, bombings of the United States Embassies in Dar es Salaam, Tanzania, and Nairobi, Kenya.
On August 7, 1998, nearly simultaneous bombs blew up in front of the American embassies in Nairobi, Kenya, and Dar es Salaam, Tanzania, in Africa – 224 people died in the blasts, including 12 Americans, and more than 4,500 people were wounded.
Both he and bin Laden escaped U.S. forces in Afghanistan in late 2001.
Zawahiri’s whereabouts had long been a mystery. Rumors have spread since late 2020 that al-Zawahiri had died from illness.
But he appeared in a new video in April, where he denounced the ‘enemies of Islam.’
He appeared after a school in India banned the wearing of the hijab.
Before April, Al-Zawahiri last appeared in a video last year marking the 20th anniversary of the September 11 attacks, months after thee rumours spread that he was dead.
In that video, he proclaimed ‘Jerusalem will never be Judaized’ and praised al-Qaeda attacks – including one that targeted Russian troops in Syria in January 2021. SITE said al-Zawahiri also noted the US military’s withdrawal from Afghanistan 20 years after the invasion.
Al-Zawarihi and his family were living at home in Kabul owned by Taliban Interior Minister Sirajuddin Haqqani (above)
Al-Zawahiri’s FBI wanted poster – there was a $25 million reward for information on him
Al-Zawahiri appeared in a video last year marking the 20th anniversary of the September 11 attacks
Smoke rises from the US Embassy in Dar es Salaam, Tanzania, in this frame grabe from TV, after a suspected car bomb exploded outside in 1998; al-Zawahiri was indicted for his alleged role in the August 7, 1998, bombings of the United States Embassies in Dar es Salaam, Tanzania, and Nairobi, Kenya
Armed US Marines stand guard by the US embassy entrance in Nairobi in 1998 as FBI agents gather evidence in the bombing
U.S. military pall bearers carry the first five flag-draped coffins of 10 Americans killed in the bombings at the U.S. Embassy in Nairobi, Kenya, during a memorial service at Andrews Air Force Base in 1998
Al-Zawahiri was born in Egypt in 1951 and worked as a surgeon. He grew up in an upper-class neighborhood in Cairo, Egypt, the son of a prominent physician and grandson of famous scholars.
An Islamic fundamentalist, al-Zawahiri joined the outlawed Egyptian Islamic Jihad group as a teenager, being jailed twice for helping plot assassinations of two Egyptian leaders.
He eventually became the group’s leader, which was dedicated to the creation of an Islamic state in Egypt, and in the 1980s he joined Mujahedeen fighting Soviet forces in Afghanistan.
There he befriended and joined forces with bin Laden, becoming his personal physician.
He formally merged his group, Egyptian Islamic Jihad, with al Qaeda in 1998.
The two men later issued a fatwa, or decree, that said: ‘The judgment to kill and fight Americans and their allies, whether civilians or military, is an obligation for every Muslim.’
Is this Al-Qaeda’s next terror chief? Secretive heir apparent who ‘oversaw Black Hawk Down operation’ and helped carry out 9/11 attacks is poised to take over
Pictured in just one of three published photos, al-Adel is the likely successor to the al-Qaeda throne. He is credited with masterminding the bombings of three US embassies in 1998 as well as playing a key role in the notorious ‘Black Hawk Down’ plot
The heir apparent to the al-Qaeda throne after tonight’s confirmed death of Ayman al-Zawahiri is a canny, military-trained operative with experience killing British and American soldiers.
Egyptian ex-army officer Saif al-Adel was a founding member of al-Qaeda, having joined pre-cursor terrorist group Maktab al-Khidamat in the late-1980s.
There he met future allies Osama bin Laden and al-Zawahiri, whose separate group Egyptian Islamic Jihad (EIJ) he would soon join.
Little else is known about Saif al-Adel, who at around 60 years of age is one of the younger al-Qaeda bosses.
Al-Adel was around 30 when he oversaw the infamous ‘Black Hawk Down’ operation in Mogadishu, Somalia, in which 19 American soldiers were killed and had their bodies dragged through the streets.
Seven more were slain when two helicopters were shot down in the east Africa ambush, including two British soldiers, three Turks and a Frenchman.
And since the assassination of Osama bin Laden in 2011, al-Adel has become an increasingly important strategist within the depleting terror cell.
The only thing standing in his way to become the next al-Qaeda leader is that he is likely stuck in Iran – and may well have been for the past 19 years.
Al-Adel is pictured (centre) on an al-Qaeda who’s who published in 2005. Osama bin Laden is pictured top-left, with al-Zawahiri to his right and Mullah Omar to the right of al-Zawahiri. Saif is now one of the only original al-Qaeda leaders still alive
The FBI Most Wanted poster on Al-Adel states the reward of up to $10million for information
In 2003, Iranian Ambassador to the UN Javad Zarif refused to confirm nor deny whether al-Adel was being held in the country.
He told ABC News that terrorists tend to have multiple passports, with the Iranian government unable to confirm their identities.
With what’s left of al-Qaeda now based in Afghanistan – and in coexistence with the Taliban – al-Adel’s geographic isolation could stop him taking the helm, foreign policy analyst Charles Lister suggested tonight.
With his real name thought to be Mohammed Salah al-Din Zaidan, al-Adel’s made-up moniker translates to ‘Sword of Justice’.
Thought not as brainwashed by Islamist ideology as his al-Qaeda colleagues, al-Adel used his military training to rise to the top of the shadowy organisation in the wake of the September 11 attacks, in which senior operatives killed themselves.
Al-Adel was in fact against the so-called ‘Planes Operation’, as it was known by members of the terror cell.
Al-Adel has risen to the top of al-Qaeda as much because of his own talents as by the United States’ ruthlessness in killing his superiors
But he helped organise the single most deadly terrorist attack in history after bin Laden became committed to the idea.
According to ex-FBI agent and counter-terrorism expert Ali Soufan, who suggested al-Adel would be ‘al-Qaeda’s next leader’ last year, Saif possesses a ‘poker face’ and a ‘caustic tongue’.
When training young soldiers, he was known to kidnap them in the middle of the night and conduct savage beatings in order to harden the troops.
Al-Adel has risen to the top of al-Qaeda as much because of his own talents as by the United States’ ruthlessness in killing his superiors.
Osama’s assumed successor son Hamza was killed in 2019 and fellow senior strategist Abu Muhammad al-Masri was assassinated in 2020.
US intelligence states: ‘Al-Adel is wanted in connection with the August 7, 1998, bombings of the United States Embassies in Dar es Salaam, Tanzania, and Nairobi, Kenya.’
Two hundred and twenty-four people died in the three East Africa blasts, including 12 Americans, with more than 4,500 people wounded.
A $10million reward for information has been placed on al-Adel’s head.
And with ex-leader al-Zawahiri now slain, the attention of America’s terrorist hunters will likely go onto Saif al-Adel.
Al-Zawahiri, who took over Al-Qaeda after Bin Laden’s death in 2011, was killed in Kabul, Afghanistan following a US airstrike this evening.
The terrorist leader is said to have guided Al-Qaeda to become one of the biggest radical movements, having been identified as a mastermind of the September 11, 2001 attacks on the United States that killed nearly 3,000 people.