The leader of Al-Qaeda, the Egyptian Ayman al-Zawahiri, was killed on the night of July 30 to 31 in Afghanistan by an American drone strike, American President Joe Biden announced on August 1, live at television. “Saturday [30 juillet], on my orders, the United States carried out an air strike on Kabul, Aghanistan, which killed the emir of Al-Qaeda, Ayman al-Zawahiri”, he launched during a short speech from the White House. “Justice has been served and this terrorist leader is no more,” added Joe Biden.
I made a promise to the American people that we’d continue to conduct effective counterterrorism operations in Afghanistan and beyond.
We have done that. pic.twitter.com/441YZJARMX
— President Biden (@POTUS) August 2, 2022
Ayman al-Zawahiri, who appeared in a video released by al-Qaeda on the twentieth anniversary of the September 11 attacks, was one of the world’s most wanted terrorists, with the United States pledging $25 million for any information to find it. He had taken the head of the jihadist nebula in 2011, after the death of Osama Bin Laden, killed by an American commando in Pakistan. Untraceable for more than ten years, he was considered one of the masterminds of the September 11 attacks which killed nearly 3,000 people in the United States. According to the Democratic president, his death will allow the families of the victims killed on September 11, 2001 in the twin towers of the World trade center, in New York, and at the headquarters of the Pentagon near Washington, “to turn the page”.
The drone attack was carried out using two Hellfire missiles and without any US military presence on the ground, a US official said. Ayman al-Zawahiri had been spotted “repeatedly and for long periods of time on the balcony where he was finally hit” by the strike in the Afghan capital, he added. According to AFP, the United States could have used Hellfire R9X “flying ginsu” missiles, named after an American brand of Japanese-inspired knives: this modified version of the American missile would have no explosive charge but would have six blades that deploy before impact, to cut the target without blast effect.
The three-storey house is located in Sherpur, an affluent district of the Afghan capital, where several villas are occupied by high-ranking Taliban officials and commanders. Several residents interviewed by AFP thought the house was empty. “We haven’t seen anyone living there for nearly a year,” said an employee from a nearby office. The house “has always been [plongée] in the dark, without a single light bulb on.
On July 31, the Afghan interior minister denied reports of a drone strike in Kabul, telling AFP that a rocket had hit “an empty house” in the capital. Taliban spokesman Zabihullah Mujahid tweeted early on August 2 that an “air strike” had been carried out using “US drones”.
Taliban spokesman accuses US of not respecting Doha agreements
Joe Biden, who was ill with Covid-19 and was under a strict isolation regime when he ordered the strike on July 25, said in his remarks that the operation caused “no casualties. civilian”. Ayman al-Zawahiri’s presence in Kabul is also a “clear violation” of the agreements reached in Doha in 2020 with the Taliban, who had pledged not to host Al-Qaeda on their soil, noted the senior official. American. US Secretary of State Antony Blinken added on the evening of August 1 that by “harbouring and sheltering” Ayman al-Zawahiri, the Taliban had “grossly violated the Doha agreement” which provided for the departure of American troops from Afghanistan.
Zabihullah Mujahid accused the United States of having derogated from these agreements by carrying out a strike on their territory. “Such actions are a repetition of the failed experiments of the past 20 years and are contrary to the interests of the United States of America, Afghanistan and the region,” he said.
As part of the Doha deal, the Taliban promised not to let Afghanistan become a launching pad for international jihad again, but experts say the group never severed ties with al-Qaeda. “What we do know is that senior Taliban officials in Haqqani were aware of his presence in Kabul,” a Biden administration official said.
Saudi Arabia welcomes death of al-Qaeda leader
Riyadh expressed its satisfaction on August 2, following this announcement: “The Kingdom of Saudi Arabia welcomes the announcement by US President Joe Biden (…) of the death of the terrorist leader of Al- Qaeda Ayman al-Zawahiri,” the foreign ministry said in a statement. The ministry called al-Zawahiri “one of the leaders of terrorism who led the planning and execution of heinous terrorist operations in the United States, Saudi Arabia and several other countries around the world.”
On the run since the attacks of September 11, 2001, Ayman al-Zawahiri grew up in a comfortable home in Cairo before turning to radical and violent Islam. He left Egypt in the mid-1980s, moving to the city of Peshawar in northwestern Pakistan, where resistance to the Soviet occupation of Afghanistan was located. It was during this time, when thousands of Islamist fighters were pouring into Afghanistan that Ayman al-Zawahiri and Osama bin Laden met. In 1998, he became one of five signatories to Osama bin Laden’s “fatwa” calling for attacks on Americans. Inheriting a weakened organization in 2011, Ayman al-Zawahiri, aged 71, had to multiply his “franchises” and the allegiances of circumstances, from the Arabian Peninsula to the Maghreb, from Somalia to Afghanistan, in order to survive. Syria and Iraq.
“Despite the leadership of Zawahiri […], the group still faces significant challenges. First, the question of who will lead Al-Qaeda after the disappearance of Zawahiri,” said Colin Clarke, researcher at the American think tank Soufan Group. Al-Qaeda had already lost its number 2, Abdullah Ahmed Abdullah, killed in August 2020 in the streets of Tehran by Israeli agents during a secret mission sponsored by Washington, information revealed a few months later by the New York Times.
The August 1 announcement comes less than a year after the chaotic withdrawal of American forces from Afghanistan, which had allowed the Taliban to regain control of the country, twenty years after the start of the Western intervention launched in the aftermath of the attacks. of September 11, 2001. Afghanistan has also been, since the return of the Taliban, the target of several terrorist attacks orchestrated by Daesh targeting the Shiite and Sufi minority communities.
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