Speaking from the White House’s Blue Room balcony on Monday night, President Joe Biden announced the United States had killed al Qaeda leader Ayman al-Zawahiri, 71, in a drone strike in Kabul, Afghanistan. The president began:
My fellow Americans, on Saturday, at my direction, the United States successfully concluded an airstrike in Kabul, Afghanistan, that killed the emir of al Qaeda, Ayman al-Zawahiri.
You know, al-Zawahiri was bin Laden’s leader. He was with him all the — the whole time. He was his number-two man, his deputy at the time of the terrorist attack of 9/11. He was deeply involved in the planning of 9/11, one of the most responsible for the attacks that murdered 2,977 people on American soil.
For decades, he was a mastermind behind attacks against Americans, including the bombing of the USS Cole in 2000, which killed 17 American sailors and wounded dozens more.
He played a key role — a key role in the bombing of U.S. embassies in Kenya and Tanzania, killing 224 and wounding over 4,500 others.
He carved a trail of murder and violence against American citizens, American service members, American diplomats, and American interests. And since the United States delivered justice to bin Laden 11 years ago, Zawahiri has been a leader of al Qaeda — the leader.
From hiding, he coordinated al Qaeda’s branches and all around the world — including setting priorities, for providing operational guidance that called for and inspired attacks against U.S. targets.
After the September 11 attacks, the State Department offered a $25 million reward for information leading to Ayman al-Zawahiri’s capture, and he was put under worldwide sanctions in 1999 by the UN’s Al-Qaida Sanctions Committee.
In 2009, the State Department reported that al-Zawahiri, an Egyptian eye doctor, had emerged as al-Qaeda’s operational and strategic commander, relegating Osama bin Laden to the role of an ideological figurehead. After the US killed bin Laden, in 2011, al-Zawahiri was active in operational planning and tactical decisions within al-Qaeda. On 2 May 2011, he became the leader of al-Qaeda, which was confirmed in a later press conference.
Al-Zawahiri’s wife and children were killed in a December 2001 US attack. There were rumors that he died in 2020, but then he made an appearance in 2021 in a video commemorating the 20th anniversary of 9/11.
In the first video that was released by bin Laden and Al-Zawahiri shortly after 9/11, they made no reference to Israel or Palestine. But as time went by, realizing the propaganda potential of focusing on that conflict, they merged Palestine into their message.
In a July 2006 recording, Al-Zawahiri said: “The whole world is an open field for us,” adding, “The war with Israel is not about a treaty, a cease-fire agreement, Sykes-Picot borders, national zeal, or disputed borders. It is rather a jihad for the sake of God until the religion of God is established. It is jihad for the liberation of Palestine, all Palestine, as well as every land that was a home for Islam, from Andalusia to Iraq. The whole world is an open field for us.”
That same year, Al-Zawahiri noted: “The reinstatement of Islamic rule … is the individual duty of every Muslim … with every land occupied by infidels. … Supporting the jihad in Palestine with one’s life, money, and opinion is the individual duty of every Muslim because Palestine was a land of Islam that was occupied by the infidels. This means that its liberation and the reinstatement of Islamic rule there is the individual duty of every Muslim as unanimously decided by the nation’s scholars. And such is the case with every land occupied by infidels.”