A US drone strike has killed Al Qaeda terrorist chief Ayman al-Zawahiri at a hideout in the Afghan capital, Kabul. Announcing the death of one of the men who plotted the 9/11 attacks, American President Joe Biden said "justice had been delivered" to victims of the September 11, 2001 attacks.
"This terrorist leader is no more," Biden said, adding that he hoped Zawahiri's death would bring "closure" to families of the 3,000 people killed in the United States on 9/11.
A senior administration official said Zawahiri was on the balcony of a house in Kabul when he was targeted with two Hellfire missiles, an hour after sunrise on 31 July. No US personnel were present in Afghanistan.
"We are not aware of him ever leaving the safe house. We identified Zawahiri on multiple occasions for sustained periods of time on the balcony . . . where he was ultimately struck," the official said.
According to the official's account, the president gave his green light for the strike on 25 July. Biden said there were no civilian casualties in the operation.
It was the first known over-the-horizon strike by the United States on an Al-Qaeda target in Afghanistan since American forces withdrew from the country on 31 August 2021.
US Secretary of State Antony Blinken said on Monday evening that "by hosting and sheltering" Zawahiri, the Taliban had "grossly violated the Doha Agreement" signed in 2020, which paved the way for America's withdrawal.
On the run for 20 years
Zawahiri, an Egyptian surgeon who grew up in a comfortable Cairo household before turning to violent radicalism, had been on the run for 20 years since the 9/11 attacks.
He took over Al-Qaeda after Osama bin Laden was killed by US special forces in Pakistan in 2011, and had a $25 million US bounty on his head.
Over the weekend the Afghan interior ministry denied reports circulating on social media of a drone strike in Kabul, telling the AFP news agency a rocket struck "an empty house" in the capital, causing no casualties.
On Tuesday Taliban spokesman Zabihullah Mujahid tweeted that an "aerial attack" was carried out on a residence in the Sherpur area of the city.
"The nature of the incident was not revealed at first. The security and intelligence agencies of the Islamic Emirate investigated the incident and found in their preliminary investigations that the attack was carried out by American drones," his tweet said.
Doctor turned jihadist
Zawahiri, who was 71, was believed to have been the main strategist of several terrorist operations, including the September 11 attacks, as well as being Osama bin Laden's personal doctor.
Saudi Arabia, the home country of bin Laden and of many of the 9/11 hijackers, welcomed the announcement of Zawahiri's death.
"Thousands of innocent people of different nationalities and religions, including Saudi citizens, were killed," by terrorists under his leadership, the Saudi foreign ministry said.