The US on Monday announced that Al-Qaeda chief Ayman al-Zawahiri was killed in airstrikes in Afghanistan over the weekend. Al-Zawahiri was the alleged mastermind of 9/11 attacks on the World Trade Centre in New York that left nearly 3,000 people dead. He took over as the chief of the terror outfit after Osama Bin Laden's killing in 2011 in Pakistan's Abottabad.
"Justice has been delivered and this terrorist leader is no more," US President Joe Biden said as he announced Zawahiri's death. Zawahiri was reportedly killed in Kabul where he had moved after spending years hiding near the Pak-Afghan border. According to US officials, he was killed by two missiles fired at his Kabul home. The reports said no other casualties were reported.
Who was Ayman al-Zawahiri?
Zawahiri was believed to be one of the closest aides of Osama Bin Laden and was one of the five signatories to bin Laden's 1998 "fatwa" calling for attacks against Americans. He was often seen flanking the Al-Qaeda leader in the initial years. Like bin Laden he would re-emerge after reports of him being assassinated post 9/11 when the US intensified the 'war on terror' and pledged to nab all those involved with the attack.
Zawahiri, an Egyptian surgeon, was born and brought up in a well-to-do family in Cairo. However, from a young age, he was involved in dissent politics and at 15 he was arrested for joining the Muslim Brotherhood outfit in Egypt. In 1981, he was implicated in the 1981 assassination of president Anwar Sadat and the massacre of foreign tourists at the city of Luxor in 1997, according to the AFP.
He later joined bin Laden's Al-Qaeda in Afghanistan as one of the main strategists. Given his medical background, he also served as Laden's personal doctor.
He had a bounty of $25 million on his head for the 1998 attacks on the US embassies in two African countries Nairobi and Tanzania. Nearly 200 people were killed in the simultaneous truck explosions. According to the FBI, Zawahiri, a physician, was the founder of the Egyptian Islamic Jihad (EIJ). "This organization opposes the secular Egyptian Government and seeks its overthrow through violent means," the FBI says on its website.
It says that Zawahiri's EIJ merged with Al-Qaeda in 1998 and carried out the attacks that left 224 people, including 12 Americans, dead and more than 4,500 people injured.
How was the strike carried out
A senior administration official described Zawahiri's assassination as "a precise tailored airstrike". Two Hellfire missiles were used in the attack, according to reports. The warhead-less missile is believed to be equipped with six razor-like blades extending from the fuselage that slices through its target but does not explode. The pictures from the strike showed no sign of an explosion.
Zawahiri was in downtown Kabul to reunite with his family there. "I authorized a precision strike that would remove him from the battlefield, once and for all," Biden said on Monday. He said the American intelligence sleuths had located Zawahiri earlier this year. "He moved to downtown Kabul to reunite with members of his immediate family," Biden said.
"The President was first briefed in April on US intelligence placing Zawahiri at a safe house in Kabul. American officials had been aware of a network supporting the terrorist leader in the Afghan capital for months, and had identified his wife, daughter and her children through multiple streams of intelligence," the CNN wrote.
According to reports, the women used "terrorist tradecraft to prevent anyone from following them to Zawahiri's location in a Kabul neighborhood". Zawahiri hd been stationed in the same place after he arrived there earlier this year. "As the months wore on, US officials began to establish patterns at the house — including Zawahiri emerging periodically onto the home's balcony for sustained periods of time," the CNN report said.
It further added that over the months, his activity was monitored and the structure of the building was analysed in order to carry out the strike 'without compromising the building's structural integrity.'
"In recent weeks, the president convened meetings with key advisors and Cabinet members to scrutinize the intelligence and evaluate the best course of action. On July 1, Biden was briefed on a proposed operation in the White House Situation Room by members of his cabinet including CIA Director William Burns," Reuters said in its report.
World leaders react
Former US President Barack Obama said the news of Zawahiri's killing was proof that it's possible to root out terrorism "without being at war in Afghanistan." "I hope it provides a small measure of peace to the 9/11 families and everyone else who has suffered at the hands of al-Qaeda," he said. Obama was at the helm of affairs of the US when bin Laden was killed in 2011.
Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau also took to Twitter and said that the development is a "step toward a safer world".
"Canada will keep working with our global partners to counter terrorist threats, promote peace and security, and keep people here at home and around the world safe," he said on Twitter.
Zawahiri had recently released a video message during India's Hijab controversy and asked the Muslims in India to fight the "assault on Islam" using media intellectually and weapons on the battlefield.
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