US kills al-Qaeda leader Ayman al-Zawahiri with CIA drone strike in Kabul
Al Qaeda leader Ayman al-Zawahiri has been killed by a US airstrike in Afghanistan, US President Joe Biden has said.
Addressing the nation from the balcony off the White House Blue Room, Mr Biden said “justice has been delivered” after authorising the strike which killed the man who was one of the masterminds of the 9/11 terror attacks.
“This terrorist leader is no more,” Mr Biden added, before expressing his hope the killing brings “one more measure of closure” to families of the nearly 3,000 people who died in the attacks on 11 September 2001.
The president added that Afghanistan will “never again become a terrorist safe haven” after the strike was carried out nearly a year after US troops withdrew from the country.
The Egyptian terror leader was standing on the balcony of a safehouse in downtown Kabul on Sunday morning when he was killed by two hellfire missiles fired from a drone.
Mr Biden said none of the 71-year-old’s family members were injured and there were no civilian casualties.
The US president said: “The United States continues to demonstrate our resolve and our capacity to defend the American people against those who seek to do us harm.
“We make 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.”
The FBI had been offering $25m (£20m) for “information leading to the apprehension or conviction” of the terror leader, whose death is the biggest blow to al-Qaeda since its founder Osama bin Laden was killed by US special forces in 2011.
The operation to kill al-Zawahiri was many months in the planning, according to a senior US administration official.
Mr Biden was first briefed about a proposed operation to take out the al-Qaeda leader on 1 July this year.
But it was much earlier in the year when intelligence suggested that his wife and children had relocated to Kabul. He and his family were believed until that point to have been in hiding in Pakistan.
The family were located to a safehouse where, the US official says, al-Zawahiri was eventually spotted too.
He was watched for several months and his pattern of life was recorded. He never left the house but did spend time on a balcony where he was eventually killed.
On 25 July, a detailed proposal had been presented to Mr Biden who, the administration official said, requested “granular level interest” because of the focus on taking “every step… to minimise civilian casualties”.
Intelligence allowed the Americans to study the construction of the house to ensure that civilian casualties were avoided.
The official added al-Zawahiri’s death is “a significant blow to al-Qaeda and will degrade their ability to operate”.
Richard Moore, head of the UK’s intelligence service MI6, said his thoughts were with the families of those killed by al-Zawahiri’s atrocities.
Mr Moore tweeted: “Tough job professionally done by our US allies. Culmination of a long, shared effort since 9/11 to eliminate the threat posed by Zawahiri – a man responsible, with his toxic creed, for the death of so many these past three decades.”
Saudi Arabia also welcomed Mr Biden’s announcement.
“Zawahiri is considered one of the leaders of terrorism that led the planning and execution of heinous terrorist operations in the United States and Saudi Arabia,” the state media reported, quoting a foreign ministry statement.
Taliban spokesman Zabihullah Mujahid confirmed that a strike took place and strongly condemned it, calling it a violation of “international principles”.
Abdul Nafi Takor, the spokesman for the interior minister, said a house was hit by a rocket in Sherpoor, in the centre of Kabul, while Taliban authorities have placed a security dragnet around the house and journalists were not allowed nearby.
Speaking to Reuters under the condition of anonymity, a woman from the neighbourhood said she and her family of nine moved into a safe room of their house when they heard an explosion.
When she later went to her rooftop, she saw no commotion or chaos and assumed it was a rocket or bomb attack.
A senior Taliban official told Reuters that al-Zawahiri was previously in Helmand province and moved to Kabul after the Taliban took over the country in August last year. Sky News