U.S. Drone Strike Kills Ayman al-Zawahri, Top Qaeda Leader

As published by the New York Times.
Aug. 1, 2022, 5:37 p.m. ETAug. 1, 2022

Aug. 1, 2022

WASHINGTON — An American drone strike killed Ayman al-Zawahri, a key plotter of the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks who took over as the leader of Al Qaeda after Osama bin Laden’s death, at an urban safe house in Afghanistan, President Biden announced on Monday night.

The early-morning strike in the heart of downtown Kabul over the weekend capped a 21-year manhunt for an Egyptian radical who more than anyone besides Bin Laden was deemed responsible for the deadliest foreign attack on the United States in modern times and never gave up targeting Americans.

“Now justice has been delivered and this terrorist leader is no more,” Mr. Biden said in a seven-minute nationally televised address from the White House. “We make it clear again tonight,” he added, “that 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.”

ImageKabul, Afghanistan, where the drone strike was said to have taken place over the weekend.
Credit…EPA, via Shutterstock
Kabul, Afghanistan, where the drone strike was said to have taken place over the weekend.

 

American intelligence agencies tracked down al-Zawahri in Kabul earlier this year and then spent months determining that it really was him hiding out in a house in a crowded section of the Afghan capital. After receiving authorization from Mr. Biden a week ago, the C.I.A. fired two Hellfire missiles and killed al-Zawahri on a balcony of the house without killing anyone else, including members of his family or any nearby civilians, American officials said.

The death of one of America’s most vocal enemies after a long and maddening search that stretched out over a generation was a major victory for Mr. Biden at a time of domestic political trouble. But it raised immediate questions about the terrorist leader’s presence in Afghanistan a year after Mr. Biden withdrew all American forces, clearing the way for the Taliban to recapture control of the country. Al-Zawahri moved back to Afghanistan earlier this year, evidently believing he would be safe there, officials said.

  • Dig deeper into the moment.

Special offer: Subscribe for $1 a week.

The success of the first strike since the withdrawal without American forces actually on the ground will bolster Mr. Biden’s argument that the United States can still wage war against terrorist organizations without the major deployments of ground forces that characterized the first two decades after Sept. 11.

But one of the premises of the American withdrawal was undercut by the disclosure that al-Zawahri found shelter in Afghanistan even though the Taliban had committed not to provide a safe haven for Al Qaeda to launch further attacks against Americans as part of an agreement first struck by President Donald J. Trump and accepted by Mr. Biden.

Peter Baker is the chief White House correspondent and has covered the last five presidents for The Times and The Washington Post. He also is the author of six books, most recently “The Man Who Ran Washington: The Life and Times of James A. Baker III.”  @peterbakernyt Facebook

Helene Cooper is a Pentagon correspondent. She was previously an editor, diplomatic correspondent and White House correspondent, and was part of the team awarded the 2015 Pulitzer Prize for International Reporting, for its coverage of the Ebola epidemic. @helenecooper

Julian E. Barnes is a national security reporter based in Washington, covering the intelligence agencies. Before joining The Times in 2018, he wrote about security matters for The Wall Street Journal. @julianbarnes Facebook

Eric Schmitt is a senior writer who has traveled the world covering terrorism and national security. He was also the Pentagon correspondent. A member of the Times staff since 1983, he has shared four Pulitzer Prizes. @EricSchmittNYT