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US kills Al-Qaeda chief in Afghan drone strike

2. Al-Qaeda
A screengrab from a video that depicts Ayman Al-Zawahiri as he gives a eulogy for slain Al-Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden on June 8, 2011. (Photo: Site Intelligence Group/AFP)

KABUL — A US drone strike killed Al-Qaeda chief Ayman Al-Zawahiri at a hideout in Kabul, President Joe Biden said Monday, declaring “justice had been delivered” to the families of the 9/11 attacks.اضافة اعلان

Zawahiri’s assassination is the biggest blow to Al-Qaeda since US special forces killed Osama bin Laden in 2011, and calls into question the Taliban’s promise not to harbor militant groups.

It was the first known over-the-horizon strike by the US on a target in Afghanistan since Washington withdrew its forces from the country on August 31 last year, days after the Taliban swept back to power.

The Taliban condemned the drone strike Tuesday, but made no mention of casualties nor did they name Zawahiri.

“Justice has been delivered and this terrorist leader is no more,” Biden said in a somber televised address, adding he hoped Zawahiri’s death would bring “closure” to families of the 3,000 people killed in the US on September 11, 2001.

Zawahiri was believed to be the mastermind who steered Al-Qaeda’s operations — including the 9/11 attacks — as well as bin Laden’s personal doctor.

A senior administration official said the 71-year-old Egyptian was on the balcony of a three-story house in the Afghan capital when targeted with two Hellfire missiles after dawn Sunday.

The house is in Sherpur, one of Kabul’s most affluent neighborhoods, with several villas occupied by high-ranking Taliban officials and commanders.

The Taliban’s interior ministry previously denied reports circulating on social media of a drone strike, telling AFP a rocket struck “an empty house” in Kabul, causing no casualties.

Early Tuesday, however, Taliban spokesman Zabihullah Mujahid tweeted that an “aerial attack” was carried out.

“The nature of the incident was not revealed at first,” he said.

“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.”

‘Grossly violated’

Although Biden did not mention the Taliban in his televised address, Secretary of State Antony Blinken said “by hosting and sheltering” Zawahiri, the Islamist group had “grossly violated the Doha Agreement” which paved the way for America’s withdrawal.

Zabihullah, in turn, accused Washington of breaking the 2020 deal.

“Such actions are a repetition of the failed experiences of the past 20 years and are against the interests of the US, Afghanistan, and the region,” he said.

News of his death comes a month before the first anniversary of the final withdrawal of US troops from Afghanistan, leaving the country in the hands of the Taliban insurgency that fought Western forces for two decades.

Under the Doha deal, the Taliban promised not to allow Afghanistan to be used again as a launchpad for international Islamist extremism, but experts believe the group never broke ties with Al-Qaeda.

“What we know is that the senior Haqqani Taliban were aware of his presence in Kabul,” the senior US official said.

Afghan Interior Minister Sirajuddin Haqqani also heads the feared Haqqani Network, a brutal subset of the Taliban blamed for some of the worst violence of the past 20 years, and which has been described by US officials as a “veritable arm” of Pakistani intelligence.

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