(Update 2: adds details from Taliban, Blinken; changes dateline, headline)
Kabul/Washington, Aug 2 (EFE).- The United States has killed al-Qaeda leader Ayman al-Zawahiri in a drone strike in Afghanistan, President Joe Biden announced on Monday (Tuesday, Kabul time).
The counter-terrorism operation was carried out by the CIA in Kabul on Saturday.
“Justice has been delivered and this terrorist leader is no more,” Biden said in a televised appearance from the balcony of the White House’s Blue Room balcony.
Zawahiri, 71, was killed Sunday at 6.18 am local time (01:48 GMT) by a drone that fired two Hellfire missiles at him while he was on the balcony of the safehouse he was staying in with his family.
According to the White House, he was the only death in the operation.
Zawahiri was considered No. 2 to Osama bin Laden and took over the group’s leadership after bin Laden was killed in Pakistan by US special forces under Barack Obama’s administration in 2011.
Biden said Zawahiri was “deeply involved in the planning of 9/11” and that he was a “mastermind” behind attacks against Americans, such as the bombing of the Navy ship USS Cole in 2000, and played a key role in the bombing of US embassies in Kenya and Tanzania.
“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,” said Biden.
Biden’s authorization came a week ago ahead of the precision strike 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 Zawahiri who lived in that house, from which he never left and was only exposed when he was on the balcony.
Biden said the al-Qaeda leader had been located after he moved to the Afghan capital with his family earlier this year and that he still constituted a threat to the citizens, interests and national security of the US.
The incident was the first known US strike inside Afghanistan since US troops evacuated the country in August last year as the Taliban took over. It is unclear whether the Taliban had provided sanctuary for Zawahiri.
After Sunday’s attack, Afghan interior ministry spokesman Abdul Nafi Tekor had initially told EFE that there were no casualties and he did not know the origin of the strike.
Taliban spokesman Zabihullah Mujahid on Tuesday confirmed the US strike and strongly condemned it, calling it “a clear violation of international principles and the Doha Agreement.” It did not refer to the target.
The Doha Agreement signed in February 2020 between the US and the Taliban agreed to the complete withdrawal of US forces from Afghanistan after two decades of conflict, which ended a year ago after the fall of Kabul to the Islamists.
However, one condition of the US’ exit was that Afghanistan would not become a sanctuary for terrorists again.
US Secretary of State Antony Blinken on Monday night Washington time accused the Taliban of breaching the pact.
“By hosting and sheltering the leader of al-Qaida in Kabul, the Taliban grossly violated the Doha Agreement and repeated assurances to the world that they would not allow Afghan territory to be used by terrorists to threaten the security of other countries,” he said in a statement.
Born in Egypt in 1951, Zawahiri was a doctor who was described as shy by his fellow students, but who went on to become one of the world’s most wanted terrorists.