Who was Al-Zawahri — and why did we kill him?

A US drone strike in Afghanistan over the weekend killed Ayman al-Zawahri, who helped Osama bin Laden plan the September 11, 2001 attacks on the United States and ensured the survival and spread of al-Qaida in the years that followed. President Joe Biden announced the killing of al-Zawahri on Monday, delivering a major victory against terrorism just 11 months after US troops left the country.

A look at the leader of al-Qaida, who evaded American capture for 21 years after suicide bombings that in many ways changed America and its relationship with the rest of the world.

Who was Ayman al-Zawahri?

Who was Al-Zawahri — and why did we kill him?

Americans who lived through the 9/11 attacks may not remember al-Zawahri’s name, but many have known his face for more than two decades: a bespectacled, faintly smiling man invariably shown in photos at bin Laden’s side as the two arranged the strike in the United States.

Egyptian, al-Zawahri was born on June 19, 1951 into a comfortable family in a leafy and sleepy suburb of Cairo. A religious observer since childhood, he immersed himself in a violent branch of a Sunni Islamic revival that sought to replace the governments of Egypt and other Arab nations with a harsh interpretation of Islamic rule.
Who was Al-Zawahri — and why did we kill him?

Al-Zawahri worked as an eye surgeon as a young adult, but also traveled through Central Asia and the Middle East, witnessing the Afghan war against the Soviet occupiers there and meeting the young Saudi Osama bin Laden and other Arab militants rallying to help Afghanistan expel Soviet troops.

He was among hundreds of activists captured and tortured in an Egyptian prison after President Anwar Sadat was assassinated by Islamic fundamentalists in 1981. Biographers say the experience further radicalized him. Seven years later, al-Zawahiri was present when bin Laden founded al-Qaeda.

Al-Zawahri merged his own Egyptian militant group with Al-Qaeda. He brought to al-Qaeda the organizational skills and experience gained underground in Egypt, evading Egyptian intelligence that enabled al-Qaeda to organize partisan cells and strike around the world.

Why was Al-Zawahri important?

After years of quietly assembling suicide bombings, funds and plans for the 9/11 attack, Zawahri ensured that al-Qaeda would survive the ensuing global manhunt to attack in new.

On the run after 9/11, al-Zawahri rebuilt al-Qaeda’s leadership in the Afghan-Pakistani border region and was supreme leader of branches in Iraq, Asia, Yemen and beyond. With a credo of targeting enemies near and far, al-Qaeda after 9/11 carried out years of relentless attacks: in Bali, Mombasa, Riyadh, Jakarta, Istanbul, Madrid, London and beyond.

The attacks that killed 52 people in London in 2005 were among al-Qaeda’s last devastating attacks in the West, as drone strikes, counter-terror raids and missiles launched by the United States and others killed fighters affiliated with al-Qaeda and broke parts of the network.

How was he killed?

Who was Al-Zawahri — and why did we kill him?

Around sunrise on Sunday, Al-Zawahri stepped out onto the balcony of a house in Kabul, Afghanistan, and apparently lingered there, as noted by US intelligence.

Who was Al-Zawahri — and why did we kill him?

That day, a US drone fired two Hellfire missiles at the al-Qaeda leader as he stood, according to US officials, speaking on condition of anonymity to discuss the strike.

Who was Al-Zawahri — and why did we kill him?

Its presence in Afghanistan had been widely suspected for some time, analysts said. US officials learned this year that Zawahri’s wife and other family members had recently moved to a safe house in Kabul. Zawahri quickly followed, senior administration officials said.

US officials, joined by top leaders down to Biden, spent months intent on confirming his identity and his fateful practice of standing alone on that same balcony and planning the strike.

First post: STI


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