Operation that killed al Qaeda leader involved months of monitoring and drone with blades


The first signs that leaders of the al Qaeda terrorist group were safe in Afghanistan came last year, as the United States withdrew its troops from the country after 20 years of occupation and left vacant a space for the Taliban to regain power.

There have always been fears that the return of the Islamic extremist group to government would create a safe haven for terrorists in the Central Asian country. It was not surprising, however, that in less than a year Ayman al-Zawahiri, the leader of Al Qaeda killed in the operation last Sunday (31), was found living in a quiet neighborhood in the capital Kabul.

The Egyptian, one of those responsible for the 9/11 attacks along with Osama bin Laden, was the target of an operation that culminated at 6:18 am on Sunday (Saturday night in Brazil), hit by a drone attack while he was on the third floor balcony. of a building. The entire process, however, took months, as a senior White House official detailed on condition of anonymity.

It was earlier this year that US intelligence identified that Zawahiri’s wife, daughter and grandchildren were hiding in Kabul – according to this official, for a long time the terrorist’s family members used techniques to prevent them from being followed.

Shortly afterwards, Zawahiri himself was identified at the scene. According to US intelligence, the terrorist has not been seen coming out of hiding since he arrived at the scene, having been observed a number of times only on the balcony.

Biden’s advisers and advisers, such as Jake Sullivan, national security adviser, were informed in April of the identification of the terrorist, who had a $25 million bounty on his head. The president learned later, and the White House decided that only a very select group of people would be informed of the case – to the point that the Department of Defense did not get involved in the operation, which was in charge of the CIA, the central intelligence.

Government officials believe that senior Taliban figures were aware of the al Qaeda chief’s presence in the Afghan capital. Asked about the knowledge that Pakistani intelligence, where the terrorist group’s cells are concentrated, had of Zawahiri’s whereabouts, the official said he could not not comment.

From the shelter, the Egyptian doctor continued to produce videos for supporters in which he attacked the US — some of which may still be released by Al Qaeda, the US government says.

After the pressure that followed a drone attack on a house in Kabul that killed ten civilians, including children – wrongly justified as bombing an Islamic State cell – the White House reinforced behind the scenes that this weekend’s episode it was planned to avoid more serious structural damage to the house that could leave other victims.

The intelligence team even made a mockup of the site to better illustrate the possibilities of the attack and presented it to Biden during a series of case updates between May and June. On July 1, at a meeting with the President, CIA Director William Burns, a proposed attack was presented.

There were still fears that the attack would disrupt other ongoing negotiations between the US government and the Taliban, such as the rescue of engineer Mark Frerichs, kidnapped in the country in 2020, or the negotiations to use the country’s airspace for future operations against the US. terrorism.

On July 25, Biden finally gave the go-ahead for the CIA operation. Days later, on Sunday morning, two Hellfire missiles hit the building and killed the al Qaeda leader.

This type of missile does not explode and was developed precisely to hit specific targets; weighing 45 kilograms, it has six blades that spin at high speeds and can tear the body of anyone hit — and, according to the American press, break through walls and car roofs. Another al Qaeda leader, Ahmad Hasan Abu Khayr al Masri, said to be the organization’s number two, had already been killed with one of these weapons in 2017 in Syria, in a CIA operation, according to the Wall Street Journal.

The terrorist’s family was in other parts of the house and was not hit, according to the White House official – who said he was “confident, through intelligence sources and methods, that we killed Zawahiri and no other individuals”. After the attack, the Taliban evacuated Zawahiri’s family and the hideout is now empty, according to the official.

The United States, however, does not have the terrorist’s body in its hands – as happened in the death of Osama bin Laden in 2011 – or anything that would allow a DNA test. But the White House maintains intelligence information that guarantees that the dead man was indeed the leader of Al Qaeda.

Zawahiri, 71, took command of the terrorist organization following the death of bin Laden. He had been part of the group since the 1990s and, at the time of 9/11, was considered one of its main leaders.

An Egyptian by birth, he was also held responsible for other attacks on US troops and institutions between the 1990s and 2000s. He is the second terrorist organization leader killed with an American drone in less than a month. In July, the US announced that it had killed Maher al-Agal, considered one of the top five leaders of the Islamic State, in Syria.

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