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Al Qaeda Leader Killed in Afghanistan by U.S. Drone Strike

Last night, U.S. President Joe Biden announced that the United States had killed Ayman al-Zawahiri, described as the leader of al Qaeda and top terrorist threat. A report in The Washington Post described al-Zawahiri as a primary architect of the al Qaeda strategy of targeting the United States with terrorist attacks to further the goal of “uniting all Muslims under a global caliphate.”

“Al-Zawahiri was [Osama] bin Laden’s… number-two man, his deputy at the time of the terrorist attack of 9/11,” Biden said. “He was deeply involved in the planning of 9/11, one of the most responsible for the attacks that murdered 2,977 people on American soil.”

Biden also noted al-Zawahiri’s role in the bombing of the USS Cole in 2000 and the bombing of U.S. embassies in Kenya and Tanzania.

“He carved a trail of murder and violence against American citizens, American service members, American diplomats, and American interests,” Biden continued. “And since the United States delivered justice to bin Laden 11 years ago, Zawahiri has been a leader of al Qaeda—the leader. From hiding, he coordinated al Qaeda’s branches and all around the world—including setting priorities, for providing operational guidance that called for and inspired attacks against U.S. targets.”

The operation took place in the heart of Kabul, Afghanistan. The New York Times reported that U.S. intelligence sources had spotted al-Zawahiri in Kabul, hiding in a house in a crowded residential area. “After receiving authorization from Mr. Biden a week ago, the C.I.A. fired two Hellfire missiles and killed al-Zawahri on a balcony of the house without killing anyone else, including members of his family or any nearby civilians, American officials said.”

The Associated Press reported that the house belonged to a top aide to senior Afghan Taliban leader Sirajuddin Haqqani, and the incident has complicated the Taliban’s relationship with Western countries and others, undermining “their efforts to secure international recognition and desperately needed aid.”

The Taliban said the operation was an attack that violated the 2020 Doha Agreement, which governed the U.S. withdrawal from Afghanistan. The strike was the first in the country since American troops withdrew in 2020. U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken said in a statement it was the Taliban that had broken the agreement: “By hosting and sheltering the leader of al Qa’ida in Kabul, the Taliban grossly violated the Doha Agreement and repeated assurances to the world that they would not allow Afghan territory to be used by terrorists to threaten the security of other countries.”

In a background piece, The New York Times reported that during al-Zawahiri’s “leadership of Al Qaeda, the organization’s global influence waned as the Islamic State rose. But the group remained a threat, with affiliates in several countries carrying out attacks. And al-Zawahri, to whom they all swore allegiance, was still one of the world’s most-wanted terrorists at his death.”

The action was praised by leaders of Saudi Arabia and Canada, as well as former U.S. President Barack Obama, who said, “Tonight’s news is also proof that it’s possible to root out terrorism without being at war in Afghanistan. And I hope it provides a small measure of peace to the 9/11 families and everyone else who has suffered at the hands of al Qaeda.”