"It allowed a precise blow that would take him off the battlefield once and for all," Biden said.
Biden said al-Zawahiri was sheltering in central Kabul for his family reunion, and was killed in what a senior administration official described as a "precisely designed air strike" using two Hellfire missiles. The official said Monday that the drone strike was carried out at 9:48 p.m. ET on Saturday with Biden’s mandate after weeks of meetings with his cabinet and key advisers, adding that there were no US personnel on the ground in Kabul at the time. He hits.
The official said senior Taliban Haqqani figures were aware of Zawahiri’s presence in the area, in "clear violation of the Doha agreement" and even took steps to conceal his presence after Saturday’s successful strike, restricting access to the safe house and swiftly moving organs. From his family, including his daughter and children, who were not deliberately targeted during the raid and remained unharmed. The United States did not alert Taliban officials before Saturday’s attack.
"An air strike was carried out on a residential house in Sherpur district of Kabul city on 31 July," Taliban spokesman Zabihullah Mujahid said in a series of tweets.
"The nature of the incident was not clear at first," he said, but the security and intelligence services in the Islamic Emirate investigated the incident and "preliminary findings determined that the raid was carried out by a US drone."
Mujahid’s tweets came before CNN announced Al-Zawahiri’s death. Mujahid said that the Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan "strongly condemns this attack on any pretext and describes it as a clear violation of international principles and the Doha Agreement."
Biden, who was on the lookout for the strike against al-Zawahiri during his impeachment with a rebound case of Covid-19, spoke outdoors Monday from the Blue Room Balcony at the White House.
Biden said that al-Zawahiri "was deeply involved in planning the September 11 attacks, one of the deadliest attacks that killed 2,977 people on American soil. For decades, he was the mastermind of attacks against Americans."
"Now, justice has been served and this terrorist leader is no longer. People all over the world no longer need to fear the evil determined killer," he continued. “The United States continues to demonstrate our resolve and our ability to defend the American people against those who seek to do us harm. We make it clear again tonight, that no matter how long it takes, no matter where you hide, if you are as a threat to our people, the States will find you United and get you out."
The president said the precise strike was the result of the "extraordinary perseverance and skill" of the country’s intelligence community.
"Our intelligence community located al-Zawahiri earlier this year – he moved to downtown Kabul to reunite with his immediate family," Biden said.
The strike comes a year after Biden ordered the withdrawal of US forces from Afghanistan, prompting Taliban forces to quickly seize control of the country.
Biden said Monday that when he withdrew U.S. forces from the country, he “made the decision that after 20 years of war, the United States no longer needs the thousands of soldiers on the ground in Afghanistan to protect America from terrorists who seek to do us harm, and I made a promise to the American people, That we continue to conduct effective counter-terrorism operations in Afghanistan and beyond. We have done just that."
Biden vowed that al-Zawahiri "will never allow Afghanistan to become a safe haven for terrorists, because he is gone and we will make sure nothing else happens."
The president concluded his speech by expressing his gratitude to the US intelligence and counterterrorism communities, saying he hoped Zawahiri’s death would bring a measure of closure to the friends and families of the 9/11 victims.
“To those who continue to seek to harm the United States, hear me now: We will always be vigilant and act—and will always do what is necessary to ensure the safety and security of Americans at home and throughout the world,” he continued.
An embarrassment to the Taliban
A senior counterterrorism analyst told CNN that it would have been impossible for al-Zawahiri to be in Kabul without the invitation and approval of at least a small number of the Taliban, whether from the Haqqani network or another part of the group.
The analyst said that this strike was embarrassing for the Taliban, as they claimed that there are no foreign fighters in Afghanistan, nor for al-Qaeda.
He added that Al-Zawahiri’s recent statements indicated that the al-Qaeda leader feels more comfortable. The comments pointed to more recent events, the analyst said, adding that this is likely to reveal complacency that may have led to the successful strike.
The issue is now being raised about who will be the successor to Al-Zawahiri.
According to UN reports, the second al-Qaeda operative, Saif al-Adel, is believed to have been in Iran.
This raised an urgent issue for the Iranians, who now must choose between expelling or harboring the new al-Qaeda leader, the analyst said.
A former Afghan government official with intimate knowledge of counter-terrorism said he had heard that Al-Adl had already left Iran for Afghanistan.
A close ally of bin Laden
He eventually helped orchestrate the deadliest terrorist attack on American soil, when hijackers turned American planes into missiles.
Al-Zawahiri said in a videotaped message published in April 2002, "These nineteen brothers who went out and gave their lives to God Almighty, may God grant them this victory that we now enjoy."
It was the first of many sarcastic messages the terrorist – who became the leader of al-Qaeda after US forces killed bin Laden in 2011 – has sent over the years, urging militants to continue the fight against America and reprimanding American leaders.
Al-Zawahiri was on the move once the US-led invasion of Afghanistan began after the September 11, 2001 attacks. At one point, he narrowly escaped an American assault in the rugged, mountainous Tora Bora region of Afghanistan, one that killed his wife and children.
He first emerged as a Muslim militant while in prison for his involvement in the 1981 assassination of Egyptian President Anwar Sadat.
"We want to talk to the whole world. Who are we? Who are we?" He said in an interview in prison.
By then, Al-Zawahiri, a young doctor, was a committed terrorist who plotted to overthrow the Egyptian government for years and sought to replace it with fundamentalist Islamic rule. He proudly supported Sadat’s assassination after the Egyptian leader made peace with Israel.
He spent three years in prison after Sadat’s assassination and claims that he was tortured while in detention. After his release, he went to Pakistan, where he treated wounded Mujahideen fighters who fought against the Soviet occupation of Afghanistan.
That was when he met bin Laden and found a common cause.
Announcing the merger of his terrorist group, Egyptian Islamic Jihad, with al-Qaeda in May 1998, he said: "We have been working with Brother Bin Laden. We have known him for more than 10 years. We fought with him here in Afghanistan…"
The two terrorist leaders signed a fatwa or declaration: “Ruling to kill and fight Americans and their allies, whether civilian or military, is the duty of every Muslim.”
The mastermind of the September 11 attacks
The attacks against the United States and its facilities began weeks after the suicide bombings that targeted the US embassies in Kenya and Tanzania, killing more than 200 people and wounding more than 5,000 others. Al-Zawahiri and bin Laden rejoiced after surviving a US cruise missile attack in Afghanistan that was launched in retaliation.
Then there was the attack on the USS Cole in Yemen in October 2000, when suicide bombers blew up their boat, killing 17 American sailors and wounding 39 others.
The height of al-Zawahiri’s terrorist plot came on September 11, 2001, when nearly 3,000 people were killed in the attacks on the Twin Towers of the World Trade Center and the Pentagon. A fourth hijacked plane bound for Washington crashed in a Pennsylvania field after passengers responded to the attack.
Since then, al-Zawahiri has raised his profile, appearing in several videos and audio tapes urging Muslims to join the jihad against the United States and its allies. Some of his tapes were closely followed by terrorist attacks.
In May 2003, for example, nearly simultaneous suicide bombings in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia, killed 23 people, including nine Americans, days after the release of a tape believed to contain al-Zawahiri’s voice.
Group of 9/11 families expresses gratitude but calls on Biden to hold the Saudis accountable
Terry Strada, president of United 9/11 Families — a coalition of survivors and families of victims of the 9/11 terrorist attacks — expressed gratitude for the strike, but called on the president to hold the government of Saudi Arabia responsible for the government’s alleged complicity in the attacks.
"I am deeply grateful for the commitment of the intelligence agencies and the dedication and sacrifices of our brave military in removing such evil from our lives. But in order to achieve full accountability for the killing of thousands on September 11, 2001, President Biden must say that the Saudi officials who funded the attacks must," Strada said in a statement.
This story was updated with additional developments on Monday.
Maegan Vazquez, Jake Tapper, Allie Malloy, Larry Register, Hamdi Khashali and CNN Wire contributed to this report.