The president of the United States, Joe Biden, confirmed this Monday that by his order the US government killed the head of Al Qaeda Ayman al Zawahiri in an anti-terrorist operation carried out by a drone in Kabul (Afghanistan) during the weekend.
(Read: Joe Biden gives details of the death of Ayman Zawahiri, head of Al Qaeda)
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 should no longer fear this “ruthless and constant 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 safety of American citizens.
Al Zawahiri was assassinated on Sunday morning in a residence in Kabul, specifically 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 head of Al Qaeda died in the operation, and there was no collateral damage, not even 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 to proceed 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.
US intelligence had been confirming for months through multiple sources and different methods that it was indeed Ayman al-Zawahiri who lived in that house, from 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 reporters, The US came to have “a high degree of confidence” that al-Zawahiri lived in that Kabul house.
The al Qaeda chief 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 US citizens, interests and national security.
Who was Ayman al-Zawahiri?
The Egyptian Ayman al Zawahiri, who died this weekend in a US attack in Afghanistan, was a doctor who was described as timid by his fellow students who went on to become one of the world’s most wanted terrorists, the head of the Al Qaeda.
US President Joe Biden announced tonight the death of Al Zawahiri, 71, more than a decade after he succeeded Osama bin Laden, assassinated by the US in an anti-terrorist operation in Pakistan in 2011, as top leader of the organization.
One of the last times that Al Zawahiri appeared in a video before his death was in a recording released by Al Qaeda on the occasion of the 20th anniversary of the September 11, 2001 attacks in the US.
In that video, titled “Jerusalem will never be Judaized,” Al Zawahiri dressed in a robe and a long white beard was seen speaking for more than an hour on a wide variety of topics, especially the Palestinian cause.
With this video, the terrorist group quelled the rumors about the poor health of their boss 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 supposed bad Egyptian health.
Al Zawahiri was born in 1951 into a middle-class family in the Cairo neighborhood of Giza, and from his teens his name was associated with Islamic militants: At the age of 15, he was arrested accused 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 the 1981 assassination of Egyptian President Anwar el Sadat (1970-1981) during a military parade in Cairo, for which he spent three years in prison.
After being released, he began a journey that took him to Saudi Arabia, the center of dissemination of the most rigorous, purist and intransigent Islam, and to Pakistan, where in Pesháwar he helped the fighters fighting in Afghanistan and joined the founder of Al Qaeda.
His first meeting with Bin Laden, who for years was his closest collaborator, was in 1985 in Pesháwar, where they agreed 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 combat the pro-Soviet regime in Kabul, and the origin of the “World Islamic Front” to combat the “Crusaders” and the “Jews”, whose founding letter was signed in 1998 jointly by Bin Laden and Zawahiri
In the early 1990s, he followed bin Laden to Sudan when he settled in Khartoum after being expelled from Saudi Arabia. In the middle of said decade, Al Zawahiri traveled, quite possibly, to the United States and the United Kingdom, always using false passports and in search of donations for his group.
In 1995, he reappeared alongside 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 State Department gave 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 Abdullah 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), which ordered attacks on US interests around the world.
In 1999 he was indicted by the US, along 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 macro-trial against jihadists called the case of “those from (returned) from Albania”, as several accused of planning attacks in Egypt were handed over by that country.
A defendant stated that the group received instructions from Emir Al Zawahiri, who was in Afghanistan with Bin Laden.
After the 9/11 attacks, Interpol ordered his search and capture, under the accusation 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 lived in hiding presumably somewhere between Afghanistan and Pakistan and has appeared in videos and recordings broadcast by Islamist pages commenting on current events and recalling his permanent commitment to the fight against those they consider enemies of Islam.
During his leadership years, Al Zawahiri has seen how Al Qaeda has moved further and further away from its objectives and a great rival has emerged, the Islamic State (IS) group, born from a split in its organization.