Block mountains

Al-Qaeda’s Zawahiri survived steep mountains and was killed in upmarket Kabul

A photo of al-Qaeda’s new leader, Egyptian Ayman al-Zawahiri, is seen in this still image taken from a video released September 12, 2011. SITE Monitoring Service/Handout via REUTERS TV/

Join now for FREE unlimited access to Reuters.com

Aug 2 (Reuters) – Al-Qaeda leader Ayman al-Zawahiri, who had a $25 million bounty on his head, survived years in the rugged mountains of Afghanistan, but his final months were been spent in an upscale neighborhood of Kabul where senior Taliban officials also live. .

US officials said Hellfire missiles from a US drone killed the 71-year-old when he stepped onto the balcony of a safe house in Kabul on Sunday morning. US President Joe Biden said no civilians were killed. Read more

The Taliban confirmed an airstrike on a residential house in Kabul’s Sherpoor neighborhood, but said there were no casualties.

Join now for FREE unlimited access to Reuters.com

Zawahiri moved to a “very safe place” in Kabul a few months after the Taliban took control of Afghanistan last August, a senior member of the radical group told Reuters on Tuesday on condition of anonymity.

Taliban spokesman Zabihullah Mujahid condemned the drone attack and called it a violation of “international principles”. Two Taliban spokesmen did not respond to a Reuters request for details of Zawahiri’s death.

Unverified footage on social media of what was described as the target of the attack showed the shattered windows of a pink building, its fences topped with rolls of barbed wire. The house seemed two or three stories high and surrounded by trees.

Sherpoor is a quiet, leafy part of Kabul with large houses, where former Afghan general and Uzbek strongman Abdul Rashid Dostum once lived, among other local dignitaries. Some houses have swimming pools in their adjoining gardens.

The United States and NATO embassies are within a few kilometers (miles) of the area.

A woman who lives in the neighborhood and spoke to Reuters on condition of anonymity said she and her family of nine had moved into the safe of their home when she heard an explosion over the weekend. When she then went to the roof, she saw no commotion or chaos and assumed it was a rocket or bomb attack – not uncommon in Kabul.

The senior Taliban official said Zawahiri spent most of his time in the mountains of Musa Qala district in Helmand province after the Taliban government was overthrown in 2001 when the United States sent troops to the country.

He said Zawahiri had kept a low profile there, but had been in and out of Pakistan’s border regions several times.

Pakistan’s foreign office did not respond to questions about Zawahiri’s reported movements inside and outside Pakistan.

In January 2006, CIA-operated Predator drones fired missiles at a house in Damadola, a village in Pakistan’s Bajaur tribal region, believing Zawahiri was visiting. He was not but at least 18 villagers were killed.

MAXIMUM SAFETY

Other Taliban sources said the group provided the “highest level of security” at Zawahiri in Kabul, but was largely operationally inactive and needed Taliban permission to move.

A Kabul police official described Sherpoor as “the safest and most secure neighborhood” in Kabul and said the drone attack came as a “big shock”.

He said influential people from the former governments of Hamid Karzai and Ashraf Ghani had built spacious houses in Sherpoor. Senior Taliban leaders and their families now lived there, the official said.

Zawahiri, an Egyptian surgeon, helped coordinate the September 11, 2001 attacks that killed nearly 3,000 people in the United States.

A US official said US officials identified that Zawahiri’s family – his wife, daughter and children – moved to a house in Kabul and later identified Zawahiri in the same location.

Officials were unaware he was leaving and repeatedly identified him on his balcony – where he was eventually beaten. Read more

Join now for FREE unlimited access to Reuters.com

Reporting by Jibran Ahmad in Peshawar, Rupam Jain in Mumbai and Gibran Peshimam in Islamabad; Written by Krishna N. Das; Editing by Raju Gopalakrishnan

Our standards: The Thomson Reuters Trust Principles.