President Joe Biden announced on Monday that Ayman al-Zawahiri, the leader of Al-Qaeda, had been killed in a drone strike at a hideout in Kabul, adding that the families of the 9/11 terrorist attacks had received “justice.”
Since US special forces killed Osama bin Laden in 2011, Zawahiri’s murder has dealt Al-Qaeda its heaviest blow, and it raises doubts about the Taliban’s pledge not to harbor extremist organizations.
Since Washington withdrew its soldiers from Afghanistan on August 31 of last year, days after the Taliban retook power, it is known that this was the first over-the-horizon US strike on a target in Afghanistan.
In a somber televised speech, Biden declared that “justice has been delivered and this terrorist commander is no more,” adding that he hoped Zawahiri’s passing would provide “closure” for the families of the 3,000 people who died on September 11, 2001, in the US.
Zawahiri was thought to be both bin Laden’s personal physician and the brains behind Al-operations, including the 9/11 attacks.
The 71-year-old Egyptian was on the balcony of a three-story residence in the Afghan capital when two Hellfire missiles were fired at him shortly after daybreak on Sunday, according to a senior administration official.
The official stated, “We spotted Zawahiri repeatedly for sustained periods of time on the balcony where he was ultimately struck.
The home is located in Sherpur, one of Kabul’s wealthiest neighborhoods, where senior Taliban officials and commanders reside in multiple villas.
The interior ministry earlier refuted claims that a drone had carried out a strike, saying AFP that a rocket had instead hit “an empty house” in Kabul with no one inside.
However, the Taliban’s spokesman Zabihullah Mujahid tweeted that an “aerial attack” had been conducted early on Tuesday.
He said that the incident’s nature had not first been made clear.
The Islamic Emirate’s security and intelligence organizations looked into the situation and determined from their first investigations that American drones were used in the strike.
Although Biden did not mention the Taliban in his televised speech, Secretary of State Antony Blinken declared that the Islamist organization had “grossly broken the Doha Agreement” by “hosting and sheltering” Zawahiri, which allowed for America’s withdrawal.
In response, Zabihullah charged that Washington had violated the 2020 agreement.
Since the 9/11 attacks, Zawahiri, who was raised in a privileged Cairo home before embracing deadly radicalism, had been on the run.
After bin Laden was dead, he claimed control of Al-Qaeda and a $25 million US bounty was placed on his head.
The news of his passing comes one month before the first anniversary of the US military’s full withdrawal from Afghanistan, handing the nation over to the Taliban insurgency, who had fought against Western forces for 20 years.
According to the terms of the Doha Agreement, the Taliban committed to prevent the use of Afghanistan as a base for global jihad, but analysts think the group never severed links with Al-Qaeda.
The senior US official stated, “What we know is that the senior Haqqani Taliban were aware of his presence in Kabul.
Sirajuddin Haqqani, the interior minister for Afghanistan, is also the leader of the dreaded Haqqani Network, a vicious branch of the Taliban that has been deemed a “veritable arm” of Pakistani intelligence and is responsible for some of the greatest carnage in the last 20 years.
Locals in Sherpur told AFP that they had long assumed the targeted home, which was encircled by high walls and barbed wire and had a green cloth covering the balcony where Zawahiri was allegedly slain, was abandoned.
Almost a year has passed since we last saw somebody residing there, according to a worker at a nearby office.
Medical Doctor turned-jihadist
Zawahiri freely contributed his analytical skills to the Al-Qaeda cause despite lacking the powerful charm that helped bin Laden inspire jihadists around the globe.
Zawahiri was described as “one of the last remaining people who carried this type of relevance” by a White House official despite the fact that the organisation is thought to have a decline.
According to researcher Colin Clarke of the Soufan Center, the organization is “at a crossroads.”
Zawahiri’s grandfather led prayers at Cairo’s Al-Azhar Institute, the supreme Sunni Muslim authority, and his father was a well-known physician.
Younger than most, he became active in Egypt’s extreme Islamist group and wrote several works that have come to represent the movement.
He departed Egypt in the middle of the 1980s, traveling to Peshawar in northwest Pakistan, the headquarters of the Afghan resistance against Soviet rule.
At the time of Zawahiri’s initial encounter with bin Laden, thousands of Islamist fighters were pouring into Afghanistan.
He joined the group of five people who signed bin Laden’s “fatwa,” which called for strikes against Americans, in 1998.
Jihadist watchdog SITE reported that while some militants disputed the validity of the story that he had died, others thought Zawahiri had attained his goal of “martyrdom.”
What transpired with al-Qaeda after the death of bin Laden?
After bin Laden’s death in 2011, Zawahiri, his deputy, assumed control.
Some observers claim that despite being the brains behind the terrorist campaign, Zawahiri lacked bin Laden’s charisma. After 2011, he continued to serve as a symbolic leader but was unable to stop the Islamist movement from fracturing in Syria and other hotspots.
His control over a vast network of allies spread out over Asia, Africa, and the Middle East was loosened. The terrorist organization known as the Islamic State, which emerged from the Iraqi branch of al-Qaeda, aimed to present itself as a more brutal substitute.
As al-Qaeda entered a period of decline with the majority of its founding members either dead or in hiding, Zawahiri presided over the organization in his later years while mainly avoiding the public eye.
After 20 years of war and counterterrorism operations, commentators called al-Qaeda in Afghanistan “a skeleton of its former self” at the time of the U.S. exit last August. According to a United Nations report from July, there may still be 400 al-Qaeda fighters in Afghanistan.
Some security professionals believed that the Taliban would give al-Qaeda new life. U.S. information suggested that Zawahiri was not hiding at the time of his murder, but rather was residing with his family in a high-security neighborhood in the heart of Kabul, where several senior Taliban officials are thought to have lived.
What will now transpire with Al Qaeda?
According to analysts, al-Qaeda has in the past adapted to the loss of leaders by replacing them with new individuals. However, the organization is now fragmented, with branches and affiliates located all over the world, from West Africa to India. It is yet unclear if those parties will concentrate on regional disputes or come together with greater global goals.
Al-Qaeda “today confronts an urgent succession problem,” according to Middle East Institute terrorist analyst Charles Lister. Though senior leader Saif al-Adel is theoretically the next in line to lead, Lister wrote Monday that because of his affiliation with Iran and the legitimacy of his base of operations, members have in the past cast doubt on him. As affiliates grow more independent from the organization, his prospective elevation might be the “death knell” for al- Qaeda’s to be a worldwide force, according to Lister.
After the bombings in London in 2005 that left 52 people dead, Al-Qaeda hasn’t committed any significant terrorist acts in the United States or Europe in recent years. Some terrorists, like a Saudi military trainee who killed three American sailors at a U.S. base in Florida in December 2019, were motivated by al-Qaeda. In an attack near London Bridge that same year, a knife-wielding attacker fatally stabbed a man and a woman. The attacker had previously belonged to a group with al-Qaeda influences.