Ms Huda Raza is studying International Relations at National Defense University, Islamabad.
The United States announced that it had killed al-Qaeda leader Ayman al-Zawahiri in a drone strike in Kabul on July 31, 2022. US president Joe Biden authorized a precision strike using two hellfire missiles, the first attack by the United States in Afghanistan since the US chaotic withdrawal. After the 9/11 attacks, the United States government took about 10 years to get Osama bin Laden; they finally got him in May 2011.
Now as we know, it took another 11 years after that to get the man who was bin Laden’s number two in al-Qaeda at the time of 9/11. The string of attacks and murders attributed to Ayman al-Zawahiri is stomach-turning. He was the pretentious mastermind of al-Qaeda who considered it justifiable to kill civilians anywhere in the name of Islam.
President Joe Biden authorized and helmed a months-long operation from tracking al-Zawahiri to taking out the world’s most wanted terrorist and also one of the puppet masters of the 9/11 attacks. Joe Biden, who was in isolation due to Covid-19, appeared to announce victory on the White House balcony.
In a televised address, US President Joe Biden said “the intelligence officials tracked Zawahiri to a home in downtown Kabul where he was hiding with his family. Justice has been delivered and this terrorist leader is no more”. He concluded the speech by expressing gratitude to the intelligence community of America by saying that the CIA had been tracking the al-Qaeda leader, chalking out an elaborate plan to carry out the strike for months.
American officials came to know that there was a network that was possibly supporting the head of the terrorist group in Kabul for months. However, the intelligence team of the US recognized the leader’s family through various means. US agents then started setting up patents at the residence, with Zawahiri regularly appearing on the balcony. Hence, to examine the building’s structure, covert attempts were underway.
Thus, the key priority for Biden and his team was to prevent collateral damage. Two missiles were shot targeting Ayman al-Zawahiri’s balcony at 6:18 a.m. local time, while his family members in the building remained unharmed.
Who was Ayman al-Zawahiri?
The son of a pharmacology professor, Ayman al-Zawahiri, was an Egyptian physician raised in Maadi, Egypt, several miles south of Cairo. As a student, he was impressed by the writings of Sayyid Qutb, an Egyptian author and leading proponent of modern Sunni Islamic revivalism. At the age of 15, Zawahiri was involved in politics and established his first group with the intention of toppling the Egyptian government.
He was then detained on account of the assassination of President Anwar Sadat at a military parade in October 1981 but later released in 1984. In 1985, he left for Saudi Arabia; from Jeddah, he returned to Peshawar and then moved on to Afghanistan. Meanwhile, he eventually became close with Osama bin Laden, who in 1988 had founded his own organization, al-Qaeda.
Ayman al-Zawahiri was also present at the founding of al-Qaeda. Following their joint assistance in helping Afghan mujahideen fighters in opposition to the Soviet Union in Afghanistan, around the 1990s, Zawahiri assumed leadership of the Egyptian Islamic Jihad (EIJ). Therefore, in 1992, Osama bin Laden travelled to Sudan and Yemen to set up training camps there, and Zawahiri accompanied him.
At that time, Zawahiri was still intensely committed to pursuing his longstanding aim of toppling Egypt’s government. In June 1995, his group tried to assassinate Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak, but their unsuccessful assassination attempt resulted in the injury and death of many people. Thus, under international pressure, they were ultimately driven out of Sudan.
In late 1996, he was detained by Russian authorities when he attempted to enter Chechnya through illegal means in order to establish a new base for EIJ. Despite spending six months in prison, Russian agents were supposedly unfamiliar with his identification until after his discharge.
Therefore, Osama bin Laden and Ayman al-Zawahiri established an alliance in 1998, and three years later in June 2001, both groups, i.e. Egyptian Islamic Jihad and al-Qaeda, were amalgamated. Adding to this, Zawahiri had a direct hand in both the 2000 USS Cole Bombing and the 9/11 attacks in 2001.
Thus, Zawahiri formally became the chief spokesperson of al-Qaeda, expressing commentary on issues of regional and international dynamics such as the US invasion of Iraq that happened in 2003 and also the warfare between Hezbollah and Israel that took place in 2006. After bin Laden’s death, Zawahiri took over al-Qaeda’s leadership in 2011. He then settled in Kabul, Afghanistan, after the Taliban seized the country in 2021.
Biden’s Political Fortunes
It’s a big win for American President Joe Biden, who has previously been grappling with domestic political problems dating back to the US chaotic withdrawal from Afghanistan last year. The big question now is, will this killing of Ayman al-Zawahiri bolster Joe Biden’s sagging presidency?
If we look back into history, in May 2011, then US President Barack Obama faced a host of issues related to the ‘birther’ controversy, health care program, and immigration but then suddenly in May, Obama addressed the nation that the United States had “killed Osama bin Laden, the leader of al-Qaeda, a terrorist responsible for the murder of thousands of innocent men, women, and children.”
Thus, that one act changed Obama’s fortunes. It changed the course of his presidency and set him on course to win a second term. In a blast from the past, Ayman al-Zawahiri’s demise marks a critical turning point for Biden’s presidency. If the past is any guide, the killing of an enemy is an extremely political act that could help Biden change his fate in the upcoming midterm November elections.
Moreover, the United States issued a warning about potential reprisals following the killing of an al-Qaeda leader and compelled its citizens to watch out for potential anti-American violence abroad. Therefore, it’s a big win for America but it has raised questions about the Taliban’s role in providing a sanctuary to the al-Qaeda leader, especially at a time, when the Taliban has been eyeing international recognition since taking over Kabul.
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