Taliban ‘grossly violated’ agreement by sheltering al-Qaeda leader Ayman al-Zawahiri, US says

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The US has accused the Taliban of violating its peace deal with America and betraying the people of Afghanistan by sheltering al-Qaeda leader Ayman al-Zawahiri in Kabul.

The US killed al-Zawahiri in a Hellfire missile strike from a drone that was targeting the al-Qaeda leader on the balcony of his home in Kabul on Sunday night.

President Joe Biden said “justice has been delivered” while announcing the death of the “most wanted terrorist” who masterminded the 9/11 attack.

“By hosting and sheltering the leader of al-Qaeda in Kabul, the Taliban grossly violated the Doha Agreement and repeated assurances to the world that they would not allow Afghan territory to be used by terrorists to threaten the security of other countries,” US secretary of state Antony Blinken said on Monday.

Mr Blinken criticised the Taliban government for its “unwillingness or inability” to abide by the commitments it made during the 2020 Doha Agreement with the US to end America’s longest war in the South Asian nation.

He said the drone operation was to protect Americans against terrorist threats emanating from Afghanistan, adding that Washington will continue to support the Afghan people with “robust humanitarian assistance”.

Al-Zawahiri, 71, was an Egyptian surgeon and a top lieutenant of Osama bin Landen who organised Islamist cells in Cairo when he was younger. He took over leadership of the terror group after bin Laden was killed in a similar strike in Pakistan in 2011.

The militant leader had a $25m bounty on his head.

Mr Biden outlined in his address how the al-Qaeda leader had been responsible not just for the deaths on 9/11 but also the USS Cole bombing in 2000, which killed 17 US sailors, and the bombings of US embassies in Kenya and Tanzania in 1998, which left 224 people dead and over 4,500 injured.

A senior US official said that he moved into a safe house in Kabul with his wife and daughter earlier this year.

The Taliban was aware of his presence in Kabul, the officials said, adding the US had been tracking him since April.

The official said al-Zawahiri’s death “deals a significant blow to al-Qaeda and will degrade the group’s ability to operate, including against the US homeland”.

The Taliban confirmed the airstrike on Sunday but did not mention al-Zawahri or any other casualties.

It said it “strongly condemns this attack” and called it a “clear violation of international principles” and the Doha Agreement, the 2020 that led to the withdrawal of American forces from Afghanistan.

“Such actions are a repetition of the failed experiences of the past 20 years and are against the interests of the United States of America, Afghanistan and the region,” the Taliban added.

An updated poster of FBI’s most-wanted al-Qaeda chief Ayman al-Zawahiri on 1 August, 2022 after he was killed in a US counterterrorism operation (FBI/AFP via Getty)
An updated poster of FBI’s most-wanted al-Qaeda chief Ayman al-Zawahiri on 1 August, 2022 after he was killed in a US counterterrorism operation (FBI/AFP via Getty)

A spokesperson for the country’s interior ministry said a house was hit by a rocket in Sherpoor, an upscale residential neighbourhood that also houses several embassies. “There were no casualties as the house was empty,” Abdul Nafi Takor, the spokesperson, said.

However, the counterterrorism operation was praised by American leaders and lawmakers, who said the world was a better place without him.

Former president Barack Obama said: “Tonight’s news is also proof that it’s possible to root out terrorism without being at war in Afghanistan. And I hope it provides a small measure of peace to the 9/11 families and everyone else who has suffered at the hands of al Qaeda.”

Republican US Senator Marco Rubio said: “The world is safer without him in it and this strike demonstrates our ongoing commitment to hunt down all terrorists responsible for 9/11 and those who continue to pose a threat to US interests.”

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