The US government has not yet confirmed his death. The White House announced Monday that President Joe Biden will speak at 7:30 p.m. ET about a “successful counterterrorism operation” against al-Qaeda in Afghanistan.
“Over the weekend, the United States conducted a counter-terrorism operation against an important al-Qaeda target in Afghanistan. The operation was successful and there were no civilian casualties,” a senior administration official said.
Biden, who tested positive for Covid-19 on Monday while dealing with a rebound case of the virus, will speak outdoors from the Blue Room Balcony at the White House.
“An air strike was carried out on a residential house in Sherpur district of Kabul city on 31 July,” Taliban spokesman Zabihullah Mujahid said in a series of tweets.
“The nature of the incident was not clear at first,” he said, but the security and intelligence services in the Islamic Emirate investigated the incident and “preliminary findings determined that the raid was carried out by a US drone.”
Mujahid’s tweets came before CNN announced Al-Zawahiri’s death. Mujahid said that the Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan “strongly condemns this attack on any pretext and describes it as a clear violation of international principles and the Doha Agreement.”
Al-Zawahiri’s targeted assassination comes a year after the US military withdrawal from Afghanistan and the Taliban’s takeover of the country. Around the time of the fall of Kabul, Biden indicated that there would be permanent US military capabilities – specifically drones – to target terrorists.
A close ally of bin Laden
He eventually helped orchestrate the deadliest terrorist attack on American soil, when hijackers turned American planes into missiles.
Al-Zawahiri said in a videotaped message published in April 2002, “These nineteen brothers who went out and gave their lives to God Almighty, may God grant them this victory that we now enjoy.”
It was the first of many sarcastic messages the terrorist – who became the leader of al-Qaeda after US forces killed bin Laden in 2011 – has sent over the years, urging militants to continue the fight against America and reprimanding American leaders.
Al-Zawahiri was on the move once the US-led invasion of Afghanistan began after the September 11, 2001 attacks. At one point, he narrowly escaped an American assault in the rugged, mountainous Tora Bora region of Afghanistan, one that killed his wife and children.
He first emerged as a Muslim militant while in prison for his involvement in the 1981 assassination of Egyptian President Anwar Sadat.
“We want to talk to the whole world. Who are we? Who are we?” He said in an interview in prison.
By then, al-Zawahiri, a young doctor, was a committed terrorist who plotted to overthrow the Egyptian government for years and sought to replace it with fundamentalist Islamic rule. He proudly supported Sadat’s assassination after the Egyptian leader made peace with Israel.
He spent three years in prison after Sadat’s assassination and claims that he was tortured while in detention. After his release, he went to Pakistan, where he treated wounded Mujahideen fighters who fought against the Soviet occupation of Afghanistan.
That was when he met bin Laden and found a common cause.
Announcing the merger of his terrorist group, Egyptian Islamic Jihad, with al-Qaeda in May 1998, he said: “We have been working with Brother Bin Laden. We have known him for more than 10 years. We fought with him here in Afghanistan…”
The two terrorist leaders signed a fatwa or declaration: “Ruling to kill and fight Americans and their allies, whether civilian or military, is the duty of every Muslim.”
The mastermind of the September 11 attacks
The attacks on the United States and its facilities began weeks after the suicide bombings that targeted the US embassies in Kenya and Tanzania, killing more than 200 people and wounding more than 5,000 others. Al-Zawahiri and bin Laden rejoiced after surviving a US cruise missile attack in Afghanistan that was launched in retaliation.
Then there was the attack on the USS Cole in Yemen in October 2000, when suicide bombers blew up their boat, killing 17 American sailors and wounding 39 others.
The height of al-Zawahiri’s terrorist plot came on September 11, 2001, when nearly 3,000 people were killed in the attacks on the Twin Towers of the World Trade Center and the Pentagon. A fourth hijacked plane bound for Washington crashed in a Pennsylvania field after passengers responded to the attack.
Since then, al-Zawahiri has raised his public profile, appearing in several videos and audio tapes urging Muslims to join the jihad against the United States and its allies. Some of his tapes were closely followed by terrorist attacks.
In May 2003, for example, nearly simultaneous suicide bombings in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia, killed 23 people, including nine Americans, days after the release of a tape believed to contain al-Zawahiri’s voice.
This is an urgent story and will be updated.
CNN’s Megan Vasquez, Larry Register, Hamdi Khashali, and CNN staff contributed to this report.