WASHINGTON (CN) — U.S. forces killed al-Qaida leader Ayman al-Zawahri in a drone strike Saturday morning in Kabul, Afghanistan, President Joe Biden announced Monday evening.
One of the most wanted terrorists in the world, Zawahri oversaw the planning of the attacks on the United States on Sept. 11, 2001 and succeeded long-time partner Osama bin Laden in leading the terrorist group after bin Laden was killed in Pakistan by U.S. forces in May 2011.
Zawahri also was responsible along with other leaders of al-Qaida for organizing the attack on the USS Cole, a U.S. Navy destroyer, eleven months before 9/11. Seventeen members of the Navy were killed in the attack.
"Now, justice has been delivered and this terrorist leader is no more," Biden announced during a speech Monday night. "People around the world no longer need to fear the vicious and determined killer. The United States continues to demonstrate our resolve and our capacity to defend the American people against those who seek to do us harm."
After years spent in hiding, a senior administration official said the U.S. learned earlier this year that Zawahri's wife and children were in Kabul, with the U.S. later learning that Zawahri was staying at the same safe house in Afghanistan.
American security officials identified Zawahri several times at the house before conducting the strike after 6 a.m. Kabul time, killing Zawahri on the balcony of the home over the weekend, according to the official.
The official said two hellfire missiles were fired at Zawahri and U.S. security forces verified through “multiple streams of intelligence” that Zawahri was killed and no civilian casualties occurred.
His family was in another portion of the safe house at the time of the attack, according to the official.
Members of the Haqqani network, a Taliban faction, were working to cover up Zawahri's presence in Afghanistan, the official said.
In the two decades after 9/11, the U.S. State Department offered a $25 million reward for information leading to Zawahri's capture or killing.
"The United States did not seek this war against terror, it came to us. We answered with the same principles and resolve that have shaped us for generation upon generation — protect the innocent, defend liberty, and we keep the light of freedom burning as a beacon for the rest of the entire world. Because this is a great and defining truth about our nation, our people: We do not break. We never give in. We never back down," Biden said.
The U.S. formally withdrew troops from Afghanistan last August after a twenty-year war sparked by 9/11. Because of the troop withdrawal, the U.S. does not have on-the-ground forces or military personnel in Afghanistan and conducted the strike on Zawahri via drone.
No American security personnel were on the ground at the time of the attack, according to the administration official.
In his speech announcing the killing of Zawahri, Biden memorialized the victims killed in the 9/11 terrorist attacks.
"We continue to mourn every innocent life that was stolen on 9/11 and honor their memories. To the families who lost fathers and mothers, husbands and wives, sons and daughters, brothers and sisters, friends and co-workers on that searing September day, it is my hope that this decisive action will bring one more measure of closure. No day shall erase them from the memory of time," Biden said.
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