The United States killed Ayman al-Zawahri, who became the leader of al Qaeda after Osama bin Laden’s death, in a CIA-led drone strike over the weekend, according to multiple reports.
The Associated Press was the first to report Zawahiri’s death, citing a source close to the matter. Unnamed U.S. officials subsequently confirmed the strike to Reuters, The Washington Post, and Politico. Few other details were immediately made public.
A Taliban spokesperson confirmed that a strike had taken place, according to Reuters. He condemned the move in a statement, calling it a violation of “international principles.”
The White House originally declined to comment except to say in a statement that the U.S. “conducted a counterterrorism operation against a significant al Qaeda target in Afghanistan. The operation was successful and there were no civilian casualties.”
Speaking from the Blue Room Balcony of the White House on Monday evening, President Joe Biden said that “justice has been delivered” with Zawahiri’s death, and that “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.”
Speaking ahead of Biden’s remarks, senior administration officials told reporters that Zawahiri had remained al Qaeda’s “most senior leader” since bin Laden’s death in June 2011.
“He continued to provide strategic direction to al Qaeda affiliates worldwide calling for attacks on the United States,” one official said. “His death yields a significant blow to al Qaeda and will degrade the group’s ability to operate, including against the U.S. homeland.”
The White House declined to comment except to say in a statement that the U.S. “conducted a counterterrorism operation against a significant al Qaeda target in Afghanistan. The operation was successful and there were no civilian casualties.”
Zawahiri was 71. An Egyptian-born physician, he took the reins of the extremist network after bin Laden was killed in 2011.
This is a breaking story and will be updated.