Ayman al-Zawahiri killed, Biden says, al Qaeda leader was Osama bin Laden’s No. 2

Al Qaeda leader Ayman al-Zawahiri was killed over the weekend in a drone strike in a US counterterrorism operation, President Joe Biden announced Monday night.

“He carved a trail of murder and violence against American citizens, American service members, American diplomats, and American interests,” President Biden said in his brief remarks from the White House balcony. “Now, justice has been delivered. And this terrorist leader is no more.”

The president said that al-Zawahiri was killed in Kabul. US government had multiple, independent sources confirming al-Zawahiri’s whereabouts at a safehouse, a senior administration official told reporters on a call Monday evening. He was ultimately taken out by a drone at 9:48 pm ET Saturday, while he was on the balcony of the safehouse, and his family members were in different rooms of the house. The US government, the senior administration official said, has a high level of confidence that no one else was killed in the strike.

The senior administration official said the strike was a result of careful, and persistent work by counterterrorism patient officials over the course of months and years. The official also noted the quick, decisive action of Mr. Biden once they determined where the al Qaeda leader was located.

The senior administration official said the president received regular updates as the US government zeroed in on al-Zawahiri. Once the safehouse was located, the president wanted to understand more about the layout of the safehouse’s doors and windows to avoid other casualties. In a July 25 meeting, the president authorized a precise, tailored air strike that would minimize civilian deaths as much as possible, the senior administration official said.

With al-Zawahiri’s death, all of top plotters of the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks are either dead or captured.

The strike comes nearly one year after US troops withdrew from Afghanistan, something that was not lost on the president. The Biden administration has long made the argument that it can continue to address terrorist threats to the American people without boots on the ground in Afghanistan, from “over the horizon.”

US President Joe Biden delivers remarks on the killing of Al Qaeda leader Ayman al-Zawahiri in a US drone strike
US President Joe Biden addresses the nation on the killing of Al Qaeda leader Ayman al-Zawahiri in a US drone strike, in Washington, US August 1, 2022. Jim Watson/Pool

POOL / REUTERS


“When I ended our military mission in Afghanistan almost a year ago, I made a decision that after 20 years of war, the United States no longer needed thousands of boots on the ground in Afghanistan to protect America from terrorists who seek to do us harm ,” Mr. Biden said. “I made a promise to the American people that we’d continue to conduct effective counterterrorism operations in Afghanistan and beyond. We’ve done just that.”

Two intelligence sources familiar with the matter said the strike was carried out by the CIA. The senior administration official said there were no civilian casualties, which the president reiterated Monday night.

The president, who tested positive with a rebound case of COVID-19delivered his remarks outdoors from a balcony at the White House.

Taliban spokesman Zabihullah Mujahid on Monday confirmed an airstrike conducted by a drone in Kabul. He said the Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan views that as a clear violation of international principles.

But former Acting CIA Director and CBS News contributor Michael Morell said after the president’s remarks that “it’s really hard for me to believe [al-Zawahiri] was in Kabul without the knowledge of at least some of the Taliban leadership.”

Noting that al-Zawahiri was “living there fairly openly, not trying to hide,” Morell said the strike makes clear to any other al-Qaeda members in Afghanistan that they must still worry about their security, despite the fact that the US no longer has troops there.

Al-Zawahiri has long been a wanted man. After the Sept. 11, 2001 terrorist attacks, then-President George W. Bush released a list of the FBI’s 22 most wanted terrorists, with al-Zawahiri near the top of the list along with Osama bin Laden.

For years, al-Zawahiri was known as al Qaeda’s No. 2, but many analysts believe he was really the brains behind bin Laden’s operation.

Osama bin Laden and Ayman al-Zawahiri
Al Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden, left, sits with his adviser Ayman al-Zawahiri, during an interview with a Pakistani journalist at an undisclosed location in Afghanistan for an article published Nov. 10, 2001.

Getty Images


Bin Laden was killed by US special forces in 2011, but al-Zawahiri eluded attempts on his life and an international manhunt until his death.

Zawahiri continued to release video statements, including one on Sept. 11, 2021, although it was unclear whether that recording was new or old. It was rumored for years that he had died, and the US offered $25 million for information that could lead to his apprehension.

— CBS News’ Arden Farhi, Nancy Cordes, Andres Triay, Ahmad Muktar, Pat Milton and Olivia Gazis contributed to this report.

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