Biden expected to announce death of Al-Qaeda chief al-Zawahiri

Biden expected to announce death of Al-Qaeda chief al-Zawahiri

Video grab provided by the SITE Intelligence Group in February 2012 showing Al-Qaeda chief Ayman al-Zawahiri at an undisclosed location, making an announcement posted on jihadist forums
Video grab provided by the SITE Intelligence Group in February 2012 showing Al-Qaeda chief Ayman al-Zawahiri at an undisclosed location, making an announcement posted on jihadist forums. Photo: - / SITE Intelligence Group/AFP/File
Source: AFP

President Joe Biden was expected to announce Monday that the United States has killed Al-Qaeda chief Ayman al-Zawahiri, one of the world's most wanted terrorists and suspected mastermind of the September 11, 2001 attacks.

The New York Times, Washington Post and CNN were among outlets reporting that Zawahiri was the target of what the White House announced was a "successful" operation against a top-level target in Afghanistan.

Biden was to deliver a televised address on the operation at 2330 GMT.

Zawahiri, an Egyptian surgeon who grew up in a comfortable Cairo household before turning to violent radicalism, had been on the run for 20 years since the 9/11 attacks that killed nearly 3,000 people in the United States.

He took over 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.

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A senior US official said the US had carried out a "successful" operation against a "significant" Al-Qaeda target in Afghanistan over the weekend.

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It would be the first known over-the-horizon strike by the United States on an Al-Qaeda target in Afghanistan since American forces withdrew from the country on August 31, 2021.

US officials did not clarify where in Afghanistan the strike took place.

On Saturday morning the Afghan interior ministry denied reports circulating on social media of a drone strike in Kabul, telling AFP a rocket struck "an empty house" in the capital, causing no casualties.

Early Tuesday in Kabul, however, Taliban spokesman Zabihullah Mujahid tweeted that an "aerial attack" was carried out on a residence in the Sherpur area of the city.

"The nature of the incident was not revealed at first. The security and intelligence agencies of the Islamic Emirate investigated the incident and found in their preliminary investigations that the attack was carried out by American drones," his tweet said.

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In recent months the Taliban have largely barred media from covering the aftermath of security incidents and frequently deny or downplay any casualties.

The news comes a week before the first anniversary of the final withdrawal of US troops from Afghanistan, leaving the country in the control of the Taliban insurgency that fought Western forces over the preceding two decades.

The US withdrew after the Taliban promised not to allow Afghanistan to be used again as a launchpad for international jihadism, but experts believe the group never broke their ties with Al-Qaeda.

Doctor turned jihadist

Zawahiri, 71, lacked the potent charisma that helped bin Laden rally jihadists around the world, but willingly channelled his analytical skills into the Al-Qaeda cause.

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

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

He became involved with Egypt's radical Muslim community at a young age and published several books on Islamic fundamentalism, which came for many to symbolize the radical Islamist movement.

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

It was at that time, when thousands of Islamist fighters flooded into Afghanistan during the 1980s, that Zawahiri and bin Laden met.

In the early 1990s Zawahiri is believed to have lived in Europe before joining bin Laden in Sudan or Afghanistan.

In 1998 he was one of five signatories to bin Laden's "fatwa" calling for attacks against Americans and he began appearing regularly at the Al-Qaeda leader's side.

Source: AFP

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