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A US drone strike killed al Qaeda head Ayman al-Zawahri in Afghanistan’s capital this week, an attack that raised skepticism among Afghans that one of the world’s most-wanted terrorists was actually living in Kabul at the time of his death, NBC News reported Tuesday.
US officials said that two Hellfire missiles struck the terrorist leader on a balcony of a Taliban-supported safe house in downtown Kabul on Sunday evening.
According to the US intelligence community, al-Zawahri and his family had been living in the safe house for months after moving there from Pakistan. There were no reports of other casualties.
The strike marks the first US counterterrorism operation in Afghanistan since the Taliban took over the country almost a year ago in the wake of the withdrawal of international troops.
Al-Zawahri was considered one of the key masterminds behind the Sept. 11, 2001 attacks and second-in-command to former al-Qaida leader Osama bin Laden. He took control of the jihadist group in 2011, following a US operation that killed bin Laden in Pakistan.
Following Sunday’s drone strike, Taliban authorities acknowledged there was an attack but gave no details of the casualties, according to Agence France-Presse.
Meanwhile, world leaders and US allies welcomed news of al-Zawahri’s death, with Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau calling it “a step toward a safer world,” Al Jazeera noted.
Some Afghans, however, expressed skepticism that the terrorist leader was residing in Afghanistan and called on the US to provide proof of death. Hardliners, meanwhile, were angry the Taliban couldn’t protect the al-Qaida leader.
Even so, analysts said the killing could deepen the tensions between the US and the Taliban government. The armed group signed an agreement with the US in 2020 pledging to prevent Afghanistan from becoming a safe haven for terrorist groups.
Al-Zawahri’s presence was a violation of the agreement, and analysts fear the killing will push the Taliban toward openly embracing terror groups.