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Al Qaeda leader killed with missiles

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Biden confirms that U.S. counter-terrorism operation ended with Ayman al-Zawahiri’s death

President Joe Biden confirmed Monday that on his orders the U.S. military killed al Qaeda leader Ayman al Zawahiri in a drone counterterrorism operation in Kabul, Afghanistan, over the weekend.

In a televised appearance from the balcony of the White House Blue Room late Monday, Biden said that with al Zawahiri’s death “justice has been served” and that the world no longer needs to fear this “ruthless and consistent killer.” The president addressed “all those around the world who want to harm the United States” and assured them that his country will always remain vigilant and ready to act when it comes to defending the security of U.S. citizens.

Al Zawahiri was killed on Sunday morning at a residence in Kabul, at 6.18 local time (1.48 GMT), when he was on the balcony of the residence where he was staying and a drone fired two Hellfire missiles at him. According to the White House, only the Al Qaeda leader was killed in the operation, and there was no collateral damage, not even to the members of his family who were staying with him, something that Biden himself had insisted on several occasions and which he had set as one of the conditions for proceeding with the attack.

Biden’s authorization came a few days before the attack, on Monday, July 25, after several weeks of meetings with his military and intelligence leadership. U.S. intelligence had been confirming for months through multiple sources and different methods that it was indeed Ayman al-Zawahiri who lived in that house, which he never left and was only exposed when he was on the balcony. According to a senior US government official in a call with journalists, the US came to have “a high degree of confidence” that al-Zawahiri lived in that house in Kabul.

The al-Qaeda leader moved to the Afghan capital with his family earlier this year from Pakistan and, according to the White House, the septuagenarian still posed a threat to U.S. citizens, interests and national security.

A doctor of few words turned most wanted terrorist

Egypt’s Ayman al Zawahiri was a doctor described as shy by his fellow students who went on to become one of the world’s most wanted terrorists, the leader of the al Qaeda network. Al Zawahiri died at 71 more than a decade after he succeeded Osama bin Laden, killed by the U.S. in a counterterrorism operation in Pakistan in 2011, as the organization’s top leader.

One of the last times al-Zawahiri appeared in a video before his death was in a recording released by al-Qaeda to mark the 20th anniversary of the September 11, 2001 attacks in the US. In that video, titled ‘Jerusalem Will Never Be Judaized’, Al Zawahiri was seen dressed in a robe with a long white beard speaking for more than an hour on a wide range of topics, especially the Palestinian cause. With this video the terrorist group quashed rumors about the poor health of its leader and even his death.

After the death of the Saudi Bin Laden, founder of Al Qaeda, Al Zawahiri took command of the organization, which was reduced to a network with many branches but without a central leadership, weakened by the successive losses of its commanders and the alleged ill health of the Egyptian.

Al Zawahiri was born in 1951 into a middle-class family in the Cairo neighborhood of Giza and, from his adolescence, his name was associated with Islamic militants: at the age of 15 he was arrested on charges of belonging to the then outlawed Muslim Brotherhood, and later joined the terrorist group Jihad (Holy War), born in Egypt in the late 1960s. The first terrorist action he is accused of is having participated in 1981 in the assassination of Egyptian President Anwar el Sadat (1970-1981) during a military parade in Cairo, for which he spent three years in prison.

After his release, he began a journey that took him to Saudi Arabia, the center of the spread of the most rigorist, purist and intransigent Islam, and to Pakistan, where in Peshawar he helped fighters fighting in Afghanistan and joined the founder of Al Qaeda. His first meeting with Bin Laden, whose closest collaborator he was for years, was in 1985 in Peshawar, where they met to organize the transfer of 20,000 Arab volunteer fighters against the Soviet occupation of Afghanistan. From that time dates the foundation of Al Qaeda, created to fight the pro-Soviet regime in Kabul, and the origin of the “World Islamic Front” to fight the “Crusaders” and the “Jews”, whose founding charter was co-signed in 1998 by Bin Laden and Zawahiri.

In the early 1990s, he followed Bin Laden to Sudan when the latter settled in Khartoum after being expelled from Saudi Arabia. In the mid-1990s, al-Zawahiri most likely traveled to the United States and the United Kingdom, always using false passports and seeking donations for his group. In 1995 he reappeared with Bin Laden in a video, in which both threatened retaliation against the United States for the arrest of Egyptian Sheikh Omar Abdel Rahman in connection with the 1993 bombing of the World Trade Center in New York.

Two years later, the Department of State attributed to him the leadership of the ‘Vanguards of Conquest’, a splinter group of the ‘Jihad’, initially linked to the murder of 59 tourists in Luxor (Egypt), in 1997. After the death that same year in an attack of Abdulah Azzam, Bin Laden’s religious mentor, Al Zawahiri became the group’s ideologue and moved to the “Al Qaeda” training camps in Afghanistan. A year later, he was one of the signatories of Bin Laden’s fatwa (religious edict), in which he was ordered to attack U.S. interests around the world.

In 1999 he was indicted by the US, together with Bin Laden and fourteen alleged members of his network, for the 1998 attacks on the US embassies in Tanzania and Kenya, which caused some 240 deaths. That same year, al-Zawahiri and his brother Mohamed were sentenced to death in absentia in Egypt in a massive trial of jihadists dubbed the “Albanian returnees” case, as several accused of plotting attacks in Egypt were handed over by that country. One defendant testified that the group received instructions from Amir Al Zawahiri, who was in Afghanistan with Bin Laden.

After the 9/11 attacks, Interpol ordered his search and capture on charges of terrorist actions in Egypt and of being “one of the heads of Al Qaeda,” and the FBI put him on its most wanted list with a $25 million reward for information leading to his arrest. Since then, he has been living in hiding, presumably somewhere between Afghanistan and Pakistan, and has appeared in videos and recordings posted on Islamist websites commenting on current events and recalling his ongoing commitment to fighting those he considers enemies of Islam.

During his years of leadership, Al Zawahiri has seen how Al Qaeda has been moving further and further away from its objectives and a great rival has emerged, the Islamic State (IS) group, born from a split of his organization.

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