Al-Zawahiri, who had a $25m US reward on his head, is regarded as one of the masterminds behind the September 11, 2001 attacks against the United States. He had taken over the armed group after the US killing of the then al-Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden in 2011.
Here is what we know so far about the attack:
What is the US saying?
- Biden greenlit the high-precision attack by the CIA, which took place on July 31, while he was recovering in isolation from COVID-19 a few days earlier. US intelligence officials had tracked down al-Zawahiri to a home in central Kabul where he was staying with his family. Biden said he hoped al-Zawahiri’s death would bring “closure” to families of the 3,000 people killed in the US on 9/11, saying “justice has been delivered”. No civilians were killed, Biden said, and warned that Washington would not allow Afghanistan to become a “terrorist safe haven” again. A senior US administration official said al-Zawahiri was on the balcony of a house in Kabul when he was targeted with two Hellfire missiles, an hour after sunrise. US Secretary of State Antony Blinken accused the Taliban of “grossly” violating the Doha Agreement by hosting and sheltering al-Zawahiri. Signed by the Taliban and the US in the Qatari capital in 2020, the pact facilitated the withdrawal of international forces from Afghanistan.
What has been the Taliban’s reaction?
- The Taliban, which returned to power in Afghanistan last year, confirmed the strike, without naming al-Zawahiri. It condemned the drone strike as a “violation of international principles” and a violation of the Doha Agreement. Taliban chief spokesman Zabihullah Mujahid said the hit was carried out on a residential house in the Sherpur area of Kabul, where many Taliban leaders reside. Mujahid said the US attack was a “repetition of the failed experiences of the past 20 years and are against the interests of the US, Afghanistan and the region”. Al-Qaeda, meanwhile, has yet to issue a statement.
Who was Ayman al-Zawahiri?
- Al-Zawahiri, a surgeon by training, was born in Cairo in 1951 into a middle-class family of doctors and scholars. He was reportedly arrested as young as 15 for being a member of the then-outlawed Muslim Brotherhood. In 1985, he left Egypt for Pakistan’s Peshawar, where he worked as a doctor treating fighters wounded in battles against Soviet forces occupying neighbouring Afghanistan. He was indicted in the US for his role in the August 7, 1998 bombings of the US embassies in Kenya and Tanzania that killed 224 people and wounded more than 5,000 others. He is also believed to have plotted the October 12, 2000 attack on the USS Cole naval vessel in Yemen which killed 17 US sailors and wounded more than 30 others. Al-Zawahiri was second-in-command during the plotting of the 9/11 attacks, and took over after bin Laden was killed in 2011.
What has been the international reaction?
- Saudi Arabia has welcomed the announcement of al-Zawahiri’s death, saying “thousands of innocent people of different nationalities and religions, including Saudi citizens, were killed” by terrorists under his leadership. Australian Prime Minister Anthony Albanese said the thoughts of Australians are with the families of all the victims of al-Zawahri’s “acts of terror”. Justin Trudeau, Canada’s prime minister, also said al-Zawahiri’s killing was “a step toward a safer world”.