US kills al-Qaeda chief al-Zawahiri in Kabul 'safe house'

By Salaam Times and AFP

Al-Qaeda leader Ayman al-Zawahiri is pictured in a screenshot from a video that aired on Al-Jazeera television on July 27, 2006, when he was second in command under Osama bin Laden. Al-Zawahiri was killed July 31 in a US drone strike in Kabul. [Al-Jazeera/AFP]

Al-Qaeda leader Ayman al-Zawahiri is pictured in a screenshot from a video that aired on Al-Jazeera television on July 27, 2006, when he was second in command under Osama bin Laden. Al-Zawahiri was killed July 31 in a US drone strike in Kabul. [Al-Jazeera/AFP]

WASHINGTON -- Al-Qaeda chief Ayman al-Zawahiri, one of the world's most wanted terrorists and a mastermind of the September 11, 2001, attacks in the United States, was killed in a drone strike in Kabul near dawn Sunday (July 31).

In a televised address Monday, US President Joe Biden said he gave the final go-ahead for the high-precision strike that eliminated al-Zawahiri in Sherpur, one of Kabul's most affluent neighbourhoods.

"Justice has been delivered and this terrorist leader is no more," Biden said.

"For several years the US government has been aware of a network that we assessed supported al-Zawahiri," a senior US administration official said.

Smoke rises from a house following a US drone strike in the Sherpur area of Kabul on July 31. [AFP]

Smoke rises from a house following a US drone strike in the Sherpur area of Kabul on July 31. [AFP]

People walk along a road in the Sherpur neighbourhood of Kabul on August 2. US President Joe Biden announced on August 1 that al-Qaeda chief Ayman al-Zawahiri had been killed by a drone strike in the Afghan capital. [Wakil Kohsar/AFP]

People walk along a road in the Sherpur neighbourhood of Kabul on August 2. US President Joe Biden announced on August 1 that al-Qaeda chief Ayman al-Zawahiri had been killed by a drone strike in the Afghan capital. [Wakil Kohsar/AFP]

But it was only this year that US intelligence learned that his family, his wife, his daughter and her children, had moved to Afghanistan's capital.

The family was careful, the official said, exercising "longstanding terrorist tradecraft" to prevent anyone tracking them to the al-Qaeda leader.

Eventually al-Zawahiri showed up, and never left.

"We are not aware of him ever leaving the safe house," the official said. "We identified al-Zawahiri on multiple occasions for sustained periods of time on the balcony."

The United States constantly monitored the multi-storey residence to understand the family's pattern of life.

Defence and intelligence officials studied the construction of the home, aiming to hit al-Zawahiri without threatening the building's structural integrity, to minimise the risk to civilians.

An attack plan developed over May and June. Officials finalised the plan in June and presented it to Biden on July 1, using a detailed model of the residence.

Biden asked detailed questions on the structure, weather issues and the risk to civilians, the official said.

Finally, on July 25, Biden made the decision.

As al-Zawahiri stepped out on the balcony, he was targeted with two Hellfire missiles, the official said.

Apparent photographs of the building show only a few windows on one floor blown out, and the rest intact.

"Al-Zawahiri's family members were present in other parts of the safe house at the time of the strike and were purposely not targeted and were not harmed," he said.

Kabul residents said they heard multiple blasts in the city.

"In the morning I wanted to go to university, [but] I heard two explosions one after the other," Ahmad Milad, a resident of Kabul, told TOLOnews.

'The world is safer'

Al-Zawahiri was killed in the first known US over-the-horizon strike on an al-Qaeda target in Afghanistan since US forces withdrew from the country last August 31.

The White House official said the strike "deals a significant blow to al-Qaeda and will degrade the group's ability to operate".

"The world is a safer place following the death of al-Zawahiri, and the United States will continue to act resolutely against those who would threaten our country, our people, or our allies and partners," the US State Department said.

Al-Qaeda is believed to have been degraded in the years since the US invasion of Afghanistan, and al-Zawahiri was "one of the last remaining figures who carried this kind of significance", the White House official said.

Al-Zawahiri, 71, an Egyptian surgeon who grew up in a comfortable Cairo household before turning to violent extremism, had been on the run for more than 20 years, since the 9/11 attacks.

He assumed leadership of al-Qaeda after Osama bin Laden was killed by US special forces in Pakistan in 2011, and had a $25 million US bounty on his head.

Al-Zawahiri lacked the charisma that helped bin Laden rally extremists around the world but channelled his analytical skills into service of al-Qaeda.

He was believed to be the main strategist and mastermind who steered operations, including the 9/11 attacks -- as well as bin Laden's personal doctor.

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

Here he met bin Laden, and in 1998 he became one of five signatories to bin Laden's "fatwa" calling for attacks against Americans.

The future of al-Qaeda

Al-Qaeda is "at a crossroads", said Soufan Centre researcher Colin Clarke.

"Despite al-Zawahiri's leadership, which minimised [al-Qaeda]'s losses while rebuilding, the group still faces serious challenges going forward," he said. "For one, there's the question of who will lead al-Qaeda after al-Zawahiri's gone."

A United Nations (UN) report released before the US strike that killed al-Zawahiri details al-Qaeda's current line of succession and lists potential replacements for its longtime leader, the Soufan Centre reported July 21.

On the list are Egyptian-born Saif al-Adel, believed to be living under semi-house arrest in Iran, and Moroccan-born Abdal Rahman al-Maghrebi.

Other potential successors are Algerian Abu Ubaydah Yusuf al-Anabi, also known as Yazid Mebrak, the leader of al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb; and Somali national Ahmed Diriye, the leader of al-Shabaab, an al-Qaeda affiliate based in Somalia. Diriye has two aliases: Ahmed Umar and Abu Ubaidah.

Considering the vulnerability of al-Qaeda leaders in Iran -- particularly after the assassination of al-Qaeda number two Abu Muhammed al-Masri in Tehran in August 2020 -- al-Adel may not be a likely candidate, the Soufan Centre said.

Al-Maghrebi -- al-Zawahiri's son-in-law, and an established al-Qaeda veteran -- is a more likely successor, it said.

Lingering security concerns

Many Afghans expressed shock that al-Qaeda's chief had been killed in Kabul, saying they could not believe al-Zawahiri had been hiding in their midst.

Kabul resident Freshta, who asked not to be further identified, said she was shocked to learn of al-Zawahiri's killing.

"It's so uncomfortable to know that he was living here," she said.

A shopkeeper who asked not to be named said he was not surprised.

"Any terrorist group can enter our land, use it and get out easily," he said.

"We are unable to protect ourselves, our soil and our property."

In a June 15 report, UN Secretary-General António Guterres noted lingering security concerns in Afghanistan.

Following an initial period of reduced conflict-related security incidents after last August, the report said, the "Islamic State of Iraq and Syria"'s Khorasan branch (ISIS-K) and other groups intensified their attacks.

Between January 1 and May 21, the UN recorded 82 attacks by ISIS-K in 11 provinces, compared with 129 attacks in six provinces during the same period in 2021.

ISIS, al-Qaeda and other violent terrorist groups "enjoy greater freedom there [in Afghanistan] than at any time in recent history", the UN said in February.

Do you like this article?

6 Comment

Comment Policy * Denotes required field 1500 / 1500

Since the Taliban have been playing in Afghanistan’s politics for almost 30 years, I was still thinking that the Taliban must have reached political maturity. Sheltering him (Al-Zawahiri) indicated that the Taliban still know nothing about politics. Giving refuge to the leader of Al-Qaeda also proved to what extent the Taliban are under the influence of Pakistan. I can say with great confidence that Pakistan shifted Ayman Al-Zawahiri from its tribal areas to Kabul and then reported his presence in Afghanistan to the United States. And the United States, which was unhappy with Pakistan because of its support of terrorists, became happy with Pakistan. One day after President Biden announced the killing of Al-Zawahiri, the International Monetary Fund agreed to give a loan to Pakistan. The value of the Pakistani rupee also increased against the dollar. It is expected that the price of gas and oil would also decrease in the country. See! Pay attention to Pakistan's games. First, they train a terrorist in religious seminaries, which operate under the direct supervision of Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI), then they provide this terrorist with all the facilities needed for terrorist activities, and when this terrorist becomes famous and the world gets afraid of him, Pakistan sells him at a very high price. Pakistan is doing a very profitable business. The business of terrorism and selling the terrorists.


I am concerned about the upcoming consequences of this attack. This act of the Taliban which is an obvious violation of the Doha agreement could have bad impacts on the economy and the Afghans. The Taliban used to claim that they have cut off relations with Al-Qaeda, but this attack indicated that they not only have not cut off their ties with al-Qaeda rather than that they have expanded it. This also proves that the Taliban can never be trusted. Former Afghan president, Mohammad Ashraf Ghani, has been saying repeatedly that if the Taliban come to power, Afghanistan would once again become a sanctuary for the terrorists. However, the United States and its allies were deceived by the false promises of the Taliban and Pakistan’s lobby and cooperated with the Taliban and Pakistan to overthrow the republic. And now, the Taliban demonstrated that they don’t care about their premises and Pakistan is also only after maintaining its national interests. Unfortunately, this is the beginning of the show. The Taliban obviously have relations with many other terrorist organizations and they would cause serious challenges to the security of the region and the world, and the poor Afghans would have to pay the price of the terror and stupidity of these groups.


Shahzad Aryoubi, the former ambassador of the Republic of Afghanistan in the Czech Republic, wrote on his Facebook page, "the killing of Ayman al-Zawahiri in Kabul is not an ordinary incident. A new page has been turned over. On the one hand, it will reduce their political credibility, and on the other, it will further isolate Afghanistan. Although President Biden did not mention the Taliban in his speech, Secretary of State Antony Blinken, in a statement, has accused the Taliban of violating the Doha Agreement and betraying Afghans. The Taliban was trying to gain legitimacy, but this incident showed that the road to achieving this goal became harder and longer. The impact on the nation will be profound because it will be in a state of uncertainty for a long time. Besides the deterioration of the economic situation, there will also be no political stability. Now is the time to work for the legitimacy of the people and refer to the people instead of the policy of force and monopoly. This is the only solution to the problems. The first step is to open girls' schools and organize the education system."


All these are games of accursed Pakistan. For more than 20 years, Pakistan sheltered Ayman al-Zawahiri the same as it sheltered Osama Bin Laden. When its economy was on the verge of bankruptcy, other countries especially the United States were not ready to assist this traitor unreliable country, which is run by unscrupulous, murderer, mercenary, and faithless generals of the Pakistani Army. Even the International Monetary Fund (IMF) didn’t give a loan to this country. Its close friend China also refused to cooperate with it. Therefore, to make the United States happy, Pakistan shifted Al-Zawahiri to Afghanistan from his sanctuary, which was more likely located near one of the Pakistani Army’s bases, the same as Osama Bin Laden was. Thereafter they moved him to the high-class neighborhood of Kabul city by using the stupid Taliban who know nothing about politics and intelligence games and then they informed the United States about him. After this cooperation of Pakistan, the United States was satisfied and in return, it pressured the International Monetary Fund to give $2 billion in loans to this county of thieves and on the verge of collapse. This hypocrite Pakistan really knows how to transact on the blood and dignity of the Afghans. Unfortunately, our people still don’t understand the true color of this devil well. Death to Pakistan, its army and its dirty intelligence.


At first, the Soviet Union, then Pakistan, and afterward the Westerners attacked our country. As a result of these attacks, millions of our people were killed, and millions more became refugees, orphans, and widows. Our people have been humiliated and insulted. Before that, I was thinking that is a rumor, but now after seeing this news on your site, I think it's true. Mostly, I visit this site for the news and discussions about the world. Most of the news on this site are based on facts.


Until now, I thought it was a lie and a Facebook rumor, but when I read it here on this news site, I can say it is true. Mostly I visit this site for the news and to know about the world. Most of its information is based on facts.