KABUL/WASHINGTON: The United States killed al Qaeda leader Ayman al-Zawahiri in a “precision” strike in the centre of Kabul, the Afghanistan capital, President Joe Biden said, the most significant blow to the militant group since its founder Osama bin Laden was killed in 2011.
Zawahiri, an Egyptian surgeon with a $25 million bounty on his head, helped coordinate September 11, 2001, attacks that killed nearly 3,000 people.
Speaking on the condition of anonymity, U.S. officials said Zawahiri was killed when he came out on the balcony of his safe house in Kabul on Sunday morning and was hit by “hellfire” missiles from a U.S. drone.
“Now justice has been delivered, and this terrorist leader is no more,” Biden said in remarks from the White House on Monday. “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.”
He said he had authorized a precise attack in Kabul and that no civilians were killed. Three Kabul spokesmen in the Taliban administration declined to comment on Zawahiri’s death.
Taliban spokesman Zabihullah Mujahid had earlier confirmed that there had been a strike in Kabul on Sunday and strongly condemned it, calling it a violation of “international principles”.
An interior ministry spokesman said a house was hit by rockets in Sherpur, an upscale residential neighbourhood that also houses several embassies.
“There were no casualties as the house was empty,” said Abdul Nafi Takor, the spokesperson. Taliban authorities threw a security dragnet around the house in Sherpoor on Tuesday; journalists were not allowed nearby.
A senior Taliban official told Reuters that Zawahiri was previously in Helmand province and had moved to Kabul after the Taliban took over the country in August last year.
U.S. intelligence determined with “high confidence” through multiple intelligence streams that the man killed was Zawahiri, one senior administration official told reporters.