US kills al-Qaeda leader in Afghanistan in drone strike

A US drone strike has killed al-Qaeda leader Ayman al-Zawahiri in a hideout in Kabul, President Joe Biden said Monday, saying "justice has been served" for the families of the 11/XNUMX attacks.

Zawahiri's assassination is the biggest blow to al-Qaeda since US special forces killed Osama bin Laden in 2011, and calls into question the Taliban's promise not to harbor militant groups.

It was the first known US over-the-horizon strike on a target in Afghanistan since Washington withdrew its forces from the country on August 31 last year, days after the Taliban returned to power.

The Taliban condemned the drone attack on Tuesday, but made no mention of casualties or named Zawahiri.

"Justice has been served and this terrorist leader is no more," Biden said in a somber televised address, adding that he hoped Zawahiri's death would bring "shutdown" to the families of the 3 people killed in the United States. United on September 000, 11.

Zawahiri was considered the mastermind who ran al-Qaeda's operations - including the September 11 attacks - as well as bin Laden's personal doctor.

A senior administration official said the 71-year-old Egyptian was on the balcony of a three-story house in the Afghan capital when he was targeted by two Hellfire missiles after dawn on Sunday.

"We identified Zawahiri several times for extended periods on the balcony where he was eventually punched," the official said.

The house is in Sherpur, one of Kabul's wealthiest neighborhoods, with several villas occupied by senior officials and Taliban commanders.

The Taliban's interior ministry has previously denied reports circulating on social media of a drone strike, telling AFP that a rocket hit "an empty house" in Kabul, causing no casualties .

Early Tuesday, however, Taliban spokesman Zabihullah Mujahid tweeted that an "air strike" had been carried out.

"The nature of the incident was not revealed at first," he said.

“The Islamic Emirate's security and intelligence agencies investigated the incident and found in their preliminary investigations that the attack was carried out by US drones. »

Grossly violated

Although Biden did not mention the Taliban in his televised address, Secretary of State Antony Blinken said that "by welcoming and sheltering" Zawahiri, the Islamist group had "seriously violated the Doha agreement" which has paved the way for American withdrawal.

Zabihullah, in turn, accused Washington of breaking the 2020 accord.

"Such actions are a repeat of the failed experiments of the past 20 years and run counter to the interests of the United States of America, Afghanistan and the region," he said.

Zawahiri, who grew up in a comfortable Cairo home before turning to violent radicalism, had been on the run since the September 11 attacks.

He took over Al-Qaeda after Bin Laden's death and had a US$25 million bounty on his head.

News of his death comes a month before the first anniversary of the final withdrawal of US troops from Afghanistan, leaving the country in the grip of the Taliban insurgency that has fought Western forces for two decades.

As part of the Doha deal, the Taliban promised not to allow Afghanistan to be used again as a launching pad for international jihadism, but experts say the group never broke its bonds. ties to al-Qaeda.

"What we do know is that senior Taliban Haqqani officials were aware of his presence in Kabul," the senior US official said.

Afghan Interior Minister Sirajuddin Haqqani also leads the fearsome Haqqani Network, a brutal subset of the Taliban blamed for some of the worst violence in the past 20 years and described by US officials as a 'real arm'. Pakistani intelligence services.

In Sherpur, residents told AFP they had long believed the targeted house - surrounded by high walls and barbed wire, and now with a green tarp covering the balcony where Zawahiri was allegedly killed - was empty.

"We haven't seen anyone living there for almost a year," said an employee from a nearby office.

“He was always in the dark, without a single light bulb on. »

Some residents found it hard to believe that Zawahiri was hiding among them.

"It's just propaganda," Fahim Shah, 66, told AFP.

"They should show the people and the world that 'we hit this man and here is the proof,'" Abdul Kabir added.

Doctor turned jihadist

Zawahiri lacked the powerful charisma that helped bin Laden rally jihadists around the world, but willingly channeled his analytical skills into the cause of al-Qaeda.

Still, the group is believed to have gone downhill since the US invasion of Afghanistan, and the White House official said Zawahiri was "one of the last remaining figures of that kind of prominence".

The organization is "at a crossroads," said Colin Clarke, a researcher at the Soufan Center.

“Despite Zawahiri's leadership, which minimized AQ's losses during reconstruction, the group still faces serious challenges going forward. On the one hand, there is the question of who will lead Al-Qaeda after Zawahiri's departure. »

Zawahiri's father was a renowned doctor and his grandfather a prayer leader at Al-Azhar Institute in Cairo, the highest authority for Sunni Muslims.

He became involved at a very young age in the radical Islamist community in Egypt and published several books which, for many, symbolized the movement.

He left Egypt in the mid-1980s, heading for the city of Peshawar in northwestern Pakistan, where resistance to the Soviet occupation of Afghanistan was based.

Thousands of Islamist fighters were pouring into Afghanistan at the time, setting the stage for Zawahiri's first encounter with bin Laden.

In 1998, he became one of five signatories to bin Laden's "fatwa" calling for attacks on Americans.

Jihadist monitor SITE said some activists questioned the veracity of the report that he had been killed, while others believed Zawahiri had fulfilled his desire for "martyrdom".

The Editorial Board (with AFP)

Image credit: Creative Commons / QuotePark

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